2 burned as blaze leaps from container

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 April, 2006, 12:00am

Unsuspecting workers engulfed by flames when one opens door

Two cargo terminal workers were seriously burned yesterday when fire burst out of a shipping container of rubber waste.

The blaze exploded from the 12-metre-long container when one of the workers opened its door at about 1pm.

The man, who police said was 45, received severe burns to his arms, legs and face.

A 25-year-old terminal worker who was walking near the container was also seriously injured when the flames escaped.

Firemen, who put out the blaze within 11 minutes of arriving at the scene, said the cause of the fire was being investigated but it was not considered suspicious.

Ambulance officers took the injured workers to United Hospital for initial treatment.

The pair were transferred about an hour later to Prince of Wales Hospital.

They were admitted to the Sha Tin hospital in critical condition.

The container was originally placed in the Kwai Chung container terminal before it was transported to the public cargo area in Cha Kwo Ling waiting to be shipped to the mainland.

Service at the public cargo area was disrupted for two hours because of the blaze.

Experienced workers at the cargo terminal said such fires in containers full of plastic or rubber waste were not unusual, especially if they contained ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM), a type of rubber with industrial uses.

'I always avoid staying too close to this kind of container, as they usually have a very strong smell,' one of the workers said.

'Fire usually happens after a container is opened, as the air inside comes in contact with fresh air outside.'

Environmentalist Wan Shek-lun explained that the substance emitted a highly volatile gas when kept in a sealed area.

'When the intensity of such gas reaches a certain level in an air-tight cargo, there is a danger of explosion or fire,' he said.

'If workers are not clear about working procedures and force a sealed container open, it might lead to an explosion or fire.'

He estimated the temperature was about 1,000 degrees Celsius in the container when the fire broke out yesterday.

Mr Wan suggested drawing up legislation to regulate the transport of dangerous goods and chemicals and labelling containers carrying them to remind workers to handle them with care.

Officers from the Labour Department were sent to the cargo terminal yesterday to take pictures and collect information about the blaze.

'We will look into the cause of the fire and find out under what conditions lives of workers were put in danger,' one of the officers said. 'We then will set up some rules accordingly to make sure the working environment is safe.'