Trial sheds light on causes of devastating Tianjin blasts

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Photo taken on Nov. 9, 2016 shows the trial scene at a court in north China’s Tianjin Municipality. Courts in Tianjin on Wednesday sentenced 49 people to prison, including 24 company managers and staff members as well as 25 government officials found guilty of various crimes that led to the city’s warehouse blasts, which killed at least 165 people in August 2015. (Xinhua/Yue Yuewei)

More than a year after a catastrophic industrial accident shocked the nation, a court finally brought justice for 165 people who lost their lives in the Tianjin warehouse blasts on Aug. 12, 2015.

On Wednesday, in the city where the tragedy occurred, 49 suspects stood trial and were given prison terms ranging from one year to life for their roles in the accident.

The blasts, which occurred at a warehouse of Ruihai Logistics Co. Ltd. (Ruihai Logistics) in Tianjin’s container port, destroyed 304 buildings, 12,428 cars, and 7,533 containers, incurring economic losses of 6.87 billion yuan (1.01 billion U.S. dollars).

But how did an accident of this magnitude happen at one of China’s busiest ports? The trial gave us some answers.

BOSS BYPASSING RULES

According to the court ruling, Ruihai Logistics bears the main responsibility. The company was found to have ignored industrial safety rules and violated municipal district planning by illegally setting up a hazardous materials storage yard.

“Management was chaotic, and safety problems persisted,” the ruling said.  It was found that Ruihai Logistics management, led by board chairman Yu Xuewei, had used a number of dirty tricks to obtain a certificate to store hazardous chemicals at the port. They faked environmental assessment papers, bribed officials and safety evaluation experts, and tactically halted operations to dodge inspections.

Yu was convicted of illegal storage of hazardous materials, illegal business operations, causing incidents involving hazardous materials, and bribery. He was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve and ordered to pay a fine of 700,000 yuan (103,704 U.S. dollars).

His deputy and other senior executives were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 years to life.

A law professor with Tianjin’s Nankai University, Liu Shixin, said he was not surprised, since causing incidents involving hazardous materials is a crime punishable by a suspended death sentence in China.

“The court considered the case a ‘severe’ one because Yu illegally obtained the certificate, hoarded many hazardous materials for long periods of time, and ignored safety rules for handling such materials,” Liu said.

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

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