Seven Maldivians and two expatriates suffered injuries in a dangerous fire accident at Malé’s southwest harbour on Monday afternoon.
The fire broke out around 3:30pm while a fuel bowser was refuelling a speedboat. Two other fuel bowsers also caught on fire and the Nevi-3 speedboat sank when the fire was put out.
The military’s fire and rescue service was able to respond immediately due to the close proximity of the fire station near the industrial village, a reclaimed area in the capital’s southwestern corner. Members of the public joined soldiers and police officers to move away fuel bowsers and other vehicles as anchored boats left the harbour. Firefighters were able to extinguish the flames around 5pm.
The nine injured men were rushed to the nearby Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital. Two were discharged after treatment and six were admitted with burns, one of whom at the intensive care unit, a hospital spokesman told the Maldives Independent.
But none of the victims suffered serious injuries, according to the media official. One victim was being treated at the ICU as a precaution, he said.
The cause of the fire is unclear and the investigation is ongoing, police said. Witnesses told local media that the spark was lit after a man threw down a cigarette butt on the jetty while the speedboat was refuelling. Smoking is prohibited at the area.
The victims included the captain and three crew members of the speedboat.
Nevi Transport Service, which operated the speedboat to ferry people between Malé and Alif Alif atoll, told Mihaaru that the company estimates losses to reach MVR4 million (US$259,400). The 60-passenger capacity Nevi-3 was the largest of three speedboats operated by the company, all of which were insured, a company official said.
The fire reportedly destroyed five vehicles from three local companies, including three bowsers from HMHI, two from Meridiam and one from Fuel Express. Citing accounts from employees, the owner of HMHI told Avas that the fire broke out on the speedboat and spread to the bowsers through a fuel line. It caused an estimated loss of nearly MVR2 million, he said.
All three fuel suppliers were forced to suspend operations. A fleet of more than 100 speedboats that travel between Malé and the atolls is also expected to face disruptions.
The state-owned Fuel Supply Maldives, which offers refuelling services for vessels docked at the T-jetty area’s quay wall, have meanwhile temporarily relocated bowsers to the capital’s suburb Hulhumalé.
Dozens of fuel bowsers transport diesel and petrol across Malé and some of them are trucks converted into make-shift fuel carriers, which have raised concerns about safety. The vehicles are usually parked in a cluster at the industrial zone.
As firefighters were battling the blaze, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih visited the site and commended their rapid response for containing the fire and preventing a serious disaster. He also visited the victims at IGMH.
The harbour fire occurred 10 days after a chemical warehouse fire in a residential area of Malé caused the death of a 46-year-old woman and displaced more than 400 people. Evacuees started moving back to their homes on Monday.
The fire incidents have revived debates about the safety and liveability of the densely-packed 2.2-square mile island of Malé, home to nearly 40 percent of the population. After decades of migration, many families share a single room and most people pay exorbitant rents to live in slum-like conditions.
Cover photo by the Maldives Independent and other photos from police and MNDF