Hazardous material was loaded onto an international aircraft

The omission on the part of the authorities that resulted in chemically hazardous material being loaded onto an international aircraft at the Nedumbassery airport will be taken up at the next meeting of the Aerodrome Safety Committee, said Collector M. Beena, who is the chairperson of the committee.

A consignment of hydrochloric acid was loaded onto a Doha-bound Qatar Airways aircraft on Wednesday after it was wrongly declared as medical equipment. The material was detected after fumes emanated from the consignment while it was being loaded onto the aircraft, which had 156 passengers and nine crew members on board.

Out of 100 pieces of the consignment, 98 had already been loaded when the mistake was detected and they had to be off-loaded. A similar incident took place on July 25 last when a consignment containing chemicals with low inflammable intensity was not detected by the multi-level cargo security screening and reached Chennai by a Kingfisher aircraft. Two days later, an inbound consignment from Jeddah without proper documents got up to the final point of being loaded onto a Jet Airways flight to Chennai.

The police have registered a case against those involved in Wednesday's incident, under the aircraft safety rules and for careless handling of hazardous material. Senior police sources told The Hindu that the agencies concerned were alerted about tightening security screening in the wake of the July incident.

Last time, the originator of the consignment and handling agency were chargesheeted. This time the supervisory role played by the airport staff might also be looked into as preliminary investigations showed that no cross-checking of the declarations submitted by the agency was done. The originator of the consignment containing hydrochloric acid is learnt to have submitted a declaration that nothing hazardous was being sent. It was originally dispatched by Infra Scientific Limited — a medical equipment manufacturing unit based in Thrissur — to the Doha Health Care.

DGCA inquiry

Nedumbassery Correspondent reports:

According to sources at the Cochin International Airport Limited, the Airport Director submitted a preliminary report on the incident to the Director-General of Civil Aviation on Thursday.

“A team of DGCA officials will arrive here within two days to investigate the matter,” said a CIAL spokesperson.

The preliminary report was based on the internal investigation and is believed to have clues on how the carton got up to the final point before being loaded. According to CIAL, the consignment was accepted at the airport cargo complex under the provision of ‘known-shipper clause,' set forth by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security.

A senior airport official acknowledged that the shipment of undeclared or hazardous materials aboard an aircraft could pose a major air cargo security risk, adding that though the CIAL boasted a team of trained and certified screeners, the screening equipment might have missed the content of the packet as it had been installed essentially to detect improvised explosives.

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