SIFAX: The Raging Quay Apron Fire
The quick take was that no life was lost during the operational fire outbreak at the Tin Can Island Port, Terminal C Lagos, neither was the Hapag Lloyd cargo ship that was being offloaded engulfed in the inferno.
While an unnamed crane driver with Port & Cargo Handling Services (P&CHS), operator of the terminal was reportedly, successfully rescued out of the burning crane without injury, what appeared to have been consumed by the fire outbreak is the corporate integrity of SIFAX GROUP, parent company of the terminal operator as well indeed, the full facts of the incident, vis-a-viz what got burnt or what was otherwise, not affected.
Available reports indicate that the terminal operator’s crane that was offloading the content of the Hapag Lloyd ship was suddenly engulfed with fire that rapidly billowed into balls of fire, resulting panic and pandemonium, but which situation was believed to have been curtailed and brought under control; as clearly indicated by local media that broke the news, except a lone medium.
However, apparently in the bid to cover up the full details of the accident, Sifax Group it is believed muzzled the local media into helping it deny any damage arising from the accident. Relying exclusively on the press statement of Sifax, which purport that the fire outbreak was no more than a minor operational accident, the media went to town full throttle, with the screaming headline “no ship was burnt’.
Its position appears understandable because Tin Can Island Port which houses Cargo Handling Services (P&CHS) has been notorious for offering for service one of the world’s most dangerous quay apron; posing danger to shipping operations, cargo and dockworkers safety.
Accepted that Sifax has the duty to assure the industry and general public that no life was lost and to further douse fears and tension regarding the accident, it would appear that the conglomerate has effectively watered down the task of relevant agencies saddled with necessary audit of the fire accident; as it would appear an uphill task for any independent report that does not agree with the already, strong media position.
Those whose business it is to know say the ‘no ship was burnt’ media blitz has a negative impact on both local and international investigation, be it ship owners, ship agents and ship insurance companies; whose real or imagined cases may have been effectively compromised.
A maritime expert who does not wish to be identified described Sifax’s position and the media reports that attended its press release as an embarrassment to corporate decorum, adding that as an international player, Sifax could do better.
“I think that what Sifax management wanted to do was to allay fears of any serious outcome from the incident, that is normal, but they shouldn’t have talked about whether or not ships were involved, that was a wrong thing to do.
“Shipping is a vast chain of business, there are ship owners, ship charterers, ship agents and ship insurance companies, some of these players work with reports and once such reports have been adultrated, it affects their evaluation.
“Having said that, l don’t want to believe that the cargo ship that was discharging when the fire started was affected, but in the future, it makes no sense to attract suspicion to yourself, there are bad guys everywhere, anyone could have sprung a surprise to say “hey your fire caused this or that to my vessel”, he posited.
Recall that Sifax Group public relations manager, Mr. Olumuyiwa Akande in a statement denying the involvement of any ship in the fire accident on Thursday explained the fire only affected its crane due to sudden technical fault.
His statement reads: “Our attention has been drawn to some misleading reports in the press after a fire incident at a terminal operated by one of our subsidiaries, Ports & Cargo Handling Services Limited, at Tin Can Island Port, Lagos. The facts about the fire incident are as follows:
“At about 12:30 pm on Thursday, July 20, 2023, one of our equipment, a shore crane, developed a sudden technical fault and before anything could be done to fix it, it went up in flames.
“There was a quick response from all stakeholders which resulted in putting out the fire as soon as possible, even though substantial damage was done to the equipment. Normalcy was returned to the terminal after containing the fire and our operations resumed.
Properly analyzed, the claim ‘before anything could be done to fix it, it went up in flames’ sounds dishonest or at best half truth, because if like the defence suggested, the fault was discovered, and yet the crane operator was still seated and working before the fire outbreak; suggests something is wrong with the company’s safety procedure.
Olumuyiwa explained that the vessel at berth as at the time of the incident was not affected by the fire while containers, both those on board the vessel as well as other consignments at the terminal, were not affected also.
“The vessel at berth as at the time of the incident was not affected by the fire while containers, both those on board the vessel as well as other consignments at the terminal, were not affected also.
“There was no loss of life, as he operator working on the affected equipment was safely rescued without any injury.”
He added there was no loss of life as the operator working on the affected equipment was safely rescued without any injury. According to him, the said equipment as well as all other equipment and facilities at the terminal are all insured.
“As a company, we are committed to operational excellence in a safe and secure environment for the collective good of all our stakeholders – customers, agents, staff, regulators and the general public.
“We urge the public to disregard any sensational reports on the incident and stay with the facts as stated here. We urge the press to please ensure their reports are accurate so members of the public are not misled and create unnecessary panic in the industry and beyond.”
Perhaps Sifax owes the general public convincing explanation with its claim that “one of our equipment, a shore crane, developed a sudden technical fault and before anything could be done to fix it, it went up in flames.”
Who discovered the purported fault and what is the in-house timeframe to fix identified faults? When Sifax say “before anything could be done…” why was the crane driver still allowed to continue to work onboard the obviously troubled crane after duly been discovered to be malfunctioning?
And hey, is it a policy of trial and error, or that the life of Sifax workers are not worth immediate concern? Perhaps this brings us to the question of Port & Cargo Handling Services fire fighting capacity; given the extra intervention that saved the day.
“Our sincere appreciation goes to individuals and organisations who reacted swiftly to the emergency situation including: Nigerian Ports Authority, Master and crew of MV Argeciras Express and the Lagos State Fire Service team. Kudos also to the staff of Ports & Cargo Handling Services Limited,” the statement said.
As it turned out, it took the combined efforts of many stakeholders to effectively curtail the fire from spreading and possibly burning ships and consuming the entire port, as any fire outbreak is wont to, due to official negligence or lack of fire fighting architecture.