By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
HIGHLY FLAMMABLE toxic chemicals that were not declared were found inside the burnt cargo at Laem Chabang Seaport in Chon Buri province, the Thailand Port Auth- ority disclosed.
After the fire broke out onboard the South Korean ship KMTC Hongkong while docking at Laem Chabang Seaport on Saturday morning, Port Authority director Kamolsak Phromprayoon revealed yesterday that 18 out of 35 remaining cargo containers on the ship held calcium hypochlorite and chlorinated paraffin wax.
These are not only highly toxic to human health and environment, but also very flammable and can ignite by themselves.
Kamolsak said after a lot of effort, the port officers successfully put out the fire late on Saturday. The investigation team was sent yesterday morning to inspect the damage at the scene.
The inspection team found calcium hypochlorite in 13 cargos and chlorinated paraffin wax in five other cargos, so it could be concluded that the ignition of these toxic chemicals is the most plausible cause of fire.
A preliminary report on Saturday had said there were no toxic chemicals onboard and the cargo only contained dolls. He said the owners of the shipments had not declared these toxic chemicals to the Thai Customs Office, so the officers did not know what was inside the cargo.
“Generally, every shipment of toxic chemicals, including transferring of shipment, has to be declared before they enter our ports. But as the ship’s company had not declared these toxic chemicals, it would be the duty of the shipping company to claim the damage from the shipment’s owners,” Kamolsak said.
As the fire was caused by the burning of chemicals, the nearby communities around Laem Chabang Seaport had earlier reported on Saturday that they suffered from noxious smoke and acidic ashes raining down over their villages, which triggered the evacuation of many communities around the seaport.
The Pollution Control Department (PCD) announced that the threat from hazardous air pollution caused by the burning of chemicals had receded to safe levels.
Air quality measured inside Laem Chabang Seaport yesterday morning found the level of Volatile Organic Compounds, formaldehyde and chlorine gas in the air were all lowered to within the safe limits.
However, as some of the water and foam, used for extinguishing the fire, had leaked into the sea the PCD has already coordinated with the Thailand Port Authority to place floating booms around the area to prevent further chemical contamination in the sea.
The officers of the PCD and the Marine and Coastal Resources Department also jointly took seawater samples for examination in a lab and monitor the chemical leakage into the sea.
Meanwhile, Somnuck Jongmeewasin, a leading environmental expert of EEC Watch, said the incident showed that the Thailand Port Authority had completely failed to handle the situation by withholding critical information about the chemicals inside the ship. He said this had caused preventable harm to the local people and their own officers.
“As we have watched the news from yesterday, we were all very certain that there must be chemicals in the ship and the Thailand Port Authority only provided us with a very wide description of the chemicals. So, both firefighting officers at the scene, the local people and medical staff treating the injured people did not know what they were really dealing with,” Somnuck said.
“This lack of information contributed to improper protection against chemical exposure for the officers at the site, danger to people around the seaport, and made it harder for medical personnel to treat the injured people.”
He also pointed out that the lack of clear information also led to more problems, as officers had used water to put out the fire. They did not know that there was calcium hypochlorite, which becomes extremely acidic when it reacts with water, on the ship.
“The Thailand Port Authority needs to heighten surveillance of every shipment that passes through its seaports, or else we could suffer from a deadly chemical blast, like what happened in Tianjin port in China, in the future,” he cautioned.