Security experts say grenades in imported scrap material put Chattogram port and steel mills at risk
Live grenades are coming to Bangladesh with scrap metal imported as raw materialfor rod manufacturing factories–a growing concern for security agencies.
Such explosives were seized last July 8 at the steel re-rolling BSRM factory, and at the GPH Ispat in 2014 in Chattogram.
The port city-based rod manufacturers import scrap metal from countries like Japan, USA, South Korea, Singapore, Canada and Turkeyvia sea routes. Security experts said the grenades could wreak havoc if they went off at Chattogram port outer anchorage or at the jetty during offloading.
Meantime, they also pointed a finger at releasing imported goods at the outer anchorage without proper scanning or poor scanning at the port. The security experts advocated improving the monitoring of scrap import in the future.
Security expert Major (retd) Emdadul Islam said, "This is alarming for the country's safety. The port scanning system was supposed to detect those explosive devices."
"The scrap exporting countries and importers cannot shrug off responsibility," he told The Business Standard.
The security expert suggested investigating the grenade issue more seriously as he believes this could be a plot to ruin the emerging steel sector.
Goods offloaded at the outer anchorage do not pass through a scanner. Only imported goods that are unloaded in the port yard go through scanners.
Secretary of Chattogram Port Authority Md Omar Faruk said the outer anchorage does not scan the goods as it releases loose items which do not require scanning.
He said that Chattogram Customs House is responsible for scanning of imported goods through the port.
When contacted, Chattogram Customs House Commissioner Mohammad Fakhrul Alam said it is difficult to detect explosive devices like grenades with scanners, "Because scrap items are metal, and so are grenades," he added.
The customs commissioner said that one needs to investigate if the grenades came in to the mills with the imported scrap or were placed there locally. The factories also have their own scanners.
Meantime, local police inspector Muhammad Helal Uddin said the recently seized grenade at the BSRM factory came in with the imported scrap metal offloaded at the port yard.
The imported scrap comes to the factory through a number of steps. Once they reach Bangladesh, they are scanned at the port and then checked again at the factory gate. The rod manufacturers were also surprised at how the explosives passed all the checking.
Mohammad Sarwar Alam, director of Golden Ispat Limited, said they were worried over the grenade recoveries. "Any explosion at port or factory will affect image of the country," he commented.
Recalling a past incident, the steel mill director said, "The customs thought we were involved in money laundering as once scrap tyres came with one of our metal imports. Poor pre-shipment inspections often prompt such anomalies."
Sarwar emphasized improving scanning mechanism of the supplier and strengthening monitoring at Chattogram port.
BSRM workers on July 8 spotted a pineapple-shaped grenade and informed local police immediately.
Later, a bomb disposal unit went to the spot and neutralised the explosive device.
Rajesh Barua, chief of the disposal unit, told The Business Standard that the grenade could have gone off on the ship, at port, or on the road while being taken to the factory, or at the factory. Though the explosive device had rusted on the outside, it was live.
BSRM Deputy Managing Director Tapan Sengupta said, "The grenade might have come with the iron scrap consignment imported from Japan recently between June 21 to July 1."
Chattogram's Zorargonj police Inspector Muhammad Helal Uddin said police filed a general diary over the discovery, and are investigating whether there was any attempt at sabotage. The inspector said they have collected all the documents about the ship that carried the consignment.
In November 2014, police seized five grenade-like objects from GPH Ispat in Chattogram. Additional Managing Director of GPH Ispat Almas Shimul said they wonder how those explosives come to Bangladesh.
But referring to the bomb disposal unit's investigation, the then Sitakunda police OC Iftekhar Hasan said the grenade-like objects that were discovered were not explosive devices.
Sources at Chattogram Customs said only six out of a total of 12 gates have scanners at Chattogram port. Of the six scanning machines, two were introduced last February while the other four are more than ten years old.
The port set up four container scanners in 2009 under the Chittagong Port Trade Facilitation (CPTF) project. Later, another mobile scanner joined the operation.
How do six scanners cover the 12 exits of the port? In response to the query, Chattogram Customs House Joint Commissioner SM Samsuzzaman said, "Goods are checked at gates with a scanning facility first, and then the container-laden vehicles are allowed to leave the port through the 12 gates."