Connect with us

Society & Culture

Mayor calls for independent inquiry of Malé warehouse fire

No reason to suspect arson, says police.



Malé City Mayor Shifa Mohamed has called for an independent inquiry of Friday night’s tragic fire incident that caused the death of a woman and displaced more than 400 people.

The fire broke out in a chemical storage warehouse in the capital’s Henveiru ward and quickly engulfed six other buildings, four of which also included warehouses.

“I think the public wants an independent inquiry to find answers,” Mayor Shifa told the Maldives Independent. 

“You will also know that the city council lacks the resources. We have only four supervisors who are charged with public works. Discussions have been going with the government about hiring more staff and where that will come from. We are talking about money as well.”

A police investigation with the help of the military is underway to determine the cause of the fire.

On Sunday, a ruling party lawmaker who represents the Henveiru North constituency called the warehouse fire “a terrorist attack.” In the face of criticism over unfounded speculation, MP Ibrahim Muizz defended the Facebook post as his “personal opinion.”

Briefing the press at the scene of the fire on Monday, Chief Inspector Hussain Shifau said it was too soon to comment on the cause. Investigators were going through CCTV footage and processing crime scene forensics to identify the point of origin, he said.

Shifau also sought to quell rumours of arson and terrorism.

“So far the investigation has not noted anything that suggests [an act of terrorism]. However, I would like to note the investigation will look at all the possibilities and angles,” the head of the serious and organised crime department said. 

On Monday night, the home ministry appealed against spreading rumours that could cause anxiety among the public and pose challenges to the police investigation.

The Maldives Independent understands that investigators are trying to identify the type of chemicals in the warehouses. The owners have reportedly insisted that only commonly used household items like detergents were stored.

According to police sources familiar with the probe, arson investigators are looking at chemical import licences issued to the companies that operated the warehouse. The fire ripped through several apartments and blazed for hours. Videos showed flames shooting upwards and engulf the high-rise building in front of the warehouse.

According to GreenPath, the local company that operated the warehouse, there was no electricity at the site where the fire started.

The defence ministry issues licenses for the import and storage of dangerous chemicals. Anecdotal evidence from city council officials suggest that in some cases companies have violated permits by storing unauthorised chemicals in residential areas.

As pledged in the wake of the tragedy, new rules on chemical storage were enacted on Monday with fines of up to MVR50,000 (US$3,240) for violations. The government also plans to relocate warehouses with hazardous or flammable chemicals to the Thilafushi industrial island near Malé within three months.

There are 126 chemical warehouses in Malé, of which 82 are inside residential buildings and 98 are adjacent to residential buildings, according to the defence ministry.

Briefing the press at the scene of the fire on Monday, Assistant Commissioner of Police Mohamed Naveen confirmed that the police investigation was analysing the permits.

“We are trying to find out how many warehouses were here, what was stored in these warehouses and what permissions were given for these warehouses. This is also ongoing concurrently,” Naveen said.