x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Sharjah launches inquiry into fire

Ships resume work in Port Khalid; cost estimated at Dh7bn.

SHARJAH // An investigation is to be held into the inferno at the Emirates Refinery Company (ERCO) that closed Port Khalid at the weekend. Ships resumed loading and unloading yesterday at the UAE'S largest port, although the ERCO plant was still cordoned off by police, and employees there had not resumed work. Rashid al Leem, the director general of Port Khalid, said a committee comprising police, civil defence, port officials, Sharjah Municipality and Ministry of the Interior officials would investigate the cause of the fire and report within a few days.

Plumes of black smoke billowed above the port after the fire broke out in the cooking-oil storage depot in the early hours of Saturday. Firemen prevented the flames from spreading to 50 oil storage facilities nearby. Initial estimates were that the cost of damage could run to Dh7 billion (US$1.9bn). Two workers who received minor burns were being treated in Sharjah's Kuwait hospital, but one was expected to be discharged today and the other later in the week.

Mr Leem said 45 companies operated within the port and each followed safety regulations fully and regularly faced civil defence inspections. "Since the inception of the Port Khalid, only two fire accidents have happened," Mr Leem said. "This is a small number compared to other industrial areas with oil industries. We do regret that the fires here have been big cases." A spokesman for IFFCO, the foodstuffs company that operates the refinery, said: "The fire has been completely put out and the site is being doused with high-pressure water as a precautionary measure." He said police still occupied the site but that the company hoped to be granted access today to begin damage assessment.

Brig Humaid al Hudaid, director general of Sharjah Police, said that only after a police report has been issued would the responsible authorities, including insurance, assess the damages and compensation. "We're very grateful to all the firefighting establishments that joined us to put off the fire. More than 50 from all the emirates responded to our call in time and helped to halt the fire." The weekend's second major fire, in an Abu Dhabi apartment block on Electra Street, was blamed on the building's dilapidated condition.

Forty-two people were taken to hospital after the fire, including eight firemen, although injuries were restricted to minor burns and smoke inhalation. Five people were reported to have been rescued from the rooftop by helicopters, while firemen using an extendable ladder plucked others from an eighth-floor balcony. Lt Col Mohammed al Nuaimi, head of the technical rescue and quick intervention department, said: "The owner of the building or his representatives should have carried out mandatory upgrades to the building's fire alarms and extinguishing system to keep in line with fire safety standards, but had failed to do so."

It is unclear whether those responsible will be prosecuted. The nine-storey building housed dozens of single men as well as families. It was the second Abu Dhabi rooftop airlift within a week. Last Tuesday, the Fathima Supermarket building on Airport Road caught fire. The cause was initially reported to be a faulty air-conditioning unit. ykakande@thenational.ae ealghalib@thenational.ae