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     Volume 4 Issue 29 | January 14, 2005 |

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News Notes

A fireball calamity
The explosion took everyone back to the Magurchhara incident of 1999, where a drilling well, operated by Occidental, had exploded, causing not only environmental destruction, but a huge financial loss as well.
In the early hours of January 8, 10,000 panic-stricken people fled their homes as a drilling-well exploded in Sunamganj and a huge fireball leapt 300ft over a gas field. It seems that the raging flames, visible from 30 kilometres away at the Tengratila gas field in eastern Chhatak, will take about a month to extinguish.
Operators of Niko, the Canadian oil company smelt trouble when a sudden surge in natural gas pressure at the well was noticed on Friday at 7:30pm. They desperately tried to tackle the impending disaster by diverting the rising pressure of gas to 500 metres away with a pipeline and burning it off. "The major threat is over," later they informed the press.
However, an expert from Petrobangla blamed Niko for the careless handling of the well. According to him, the explosion was the result of "inadequate monitoring" of exploration activities and of drilling too deep into the gas field without adequate structures. "The biggest fault of Niko is that like Occidental, which had drilled in Magurchhara through an improper well casing (made of concrete), Niko also made a casing of 300 metres but went on drilling up to 800 metres without any stable structure," the expert pointed out.
Niko's Operations Manager, Peter Mercier, however insisted that the exact cause of this explosion was still unclear. "We had a target of drilling 1,700 metres. But the disaster occurred after drilling about 800 metres on Friday night. We had tried to avert the accident by firing a flare line within an hour of the abnormal behaviour of the well," he said. "The incident may have taken place due to the high pressure of the well head. We will have to wait till the fire goes out automatically," he informed further.
According to experts, the inferno will take 30-45 days to actually come under control unless the gas from this well, estimated to have a 300 billion cubic feet reserve, burns itself out.
State Minister for Energy AKM Mosharraf Hossain, along with secretary in charge of the ministry Nazrul Islam, Petrobangla Chairman SR Osmani and Petrobangla Director (operation) Raihanul Abedin visited the spot, where the state minister indicated that the inferno will burn 30 to 40 million cubic feet of gas a day-- worth about Tk 30 to 40 lakh.

Even the PM cannot
get him arrested

With the infamous Bangla Bhai still on the loose even after the PM categorically ordered his arrest some quarters of the ruling party are feeling a little uncomfortable. Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai, the leader of Jagroto Muslim Jonota (JMB), an extremist group that vows to bring in Sharia rule to the country through its militant strategy, has gone underground after terrorising his home district Bogura and adjoining districts including Bagmara, Rajshahi, the group's headquarters. Not surprisingly, Bangla Bhai has his fan following within the ruling party who believe that his disciplining of the outlaw has been a good deed and has benefited ordinary people. News reports in various dailies however, have given enough proof (especially with photographs) that many of Bangla Bhai and his group's victims of torture and killing included poor villagers with no political affiliation. It is strange that members of the ruling party have chosen to condone or even support the heinous crimes of this notorious terrorist.

A Diplomat chastised for
being undiplomatic

According to a Prothom Alo report, a vice consul of the Bangladesh Consulate in New York has been recalled for his apparent 'crime' of making certain comments. At a discussion meeting commemorating Victory Day, the vice consul said that Bangladesh's image was being destroyed because of the distortion of the country's history. Among the faux pas of the diplomat was his call for projecting the true history of the Muktijuddho and the contributions of Bangabandhu. In his defence the diplomat said that those who had contributed to the Liberation movement should be recognised. He also said that the history of our independence struggle should be kept above from party politics. The vice consul was recalled immediately after his comments were made known to the foreign ministry, which warned of administrative action against him if he failed to comply. The vice- consul, who has undergone bypass surgery, asked for an extension of the time within which he would have to report to Dhaka, but his request was refused.

Another Garment Factory Tragedy
January 6th was a nightmare for factory workers of Shaan Knitting and Processing in Siddhirganj, Naraynganj, where a fire killed at least 23 people and injured over 50. Locals and firefighters are still looking for more bodies as a number of staff members are still missing. According to firefighters, the fire might have been caused by an electrical short circuit. Witnesses say that the fire originated from the ironing section on the first floor when sparks started flying from an electric cable. The clothes piled at the ironing section caught fire first and within seconds, the entire room was in flames. Because of the flammable clothes and fabrics all over the factory, the fire had spread to other floors in the building in the span of a few minutes. The fire lasted for about eighteen hours and was finally extinguished by firefighters around 3:40 p.m. on Friday afternoon. A police investigation report blames the factory's owners for the fire. Factory workers suspect that the owner, Rahmat Ullah, caused the fire because he has been unable to pay the workers their salaries for the last five months. According to the officer-in-charge (OC) of Siddhirganj Police Station, not only did the factory not have sufficient emergency exits, the situation was exacerbated when the power went off and the workers could not trace the exit points during the fire. When asked to comment, Rahmat Ullah claimed that these allegations were baseless. Selim Newaz Bhuiyan, assistant director (Dhaka Division) of Fire Brigade and Civil Defence, said that a probe committee will be formed to find out what caused the fire, which has caused so many deaths. The Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) has claimed that they will allot Tk. one Lakh to each of the victims' families as compensation and will also provide jobs to members of the victims' families, if it is suitable. BKMEA will also bear medical expenses of the injured and ensure payment of wages and salaries of the workers and employees of the factory before Eid-ul-Azha.

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