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Tragedy in Kuwait: Kerala prepares for repatriation

Updated on: 14 June,2024 07:28 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Vinod Kumar Menon |

Special charter planes to bring back victims, Kerala government announces compensation for families and injured

Tragedy in Kuwait: Kerala prepares for repatriation

The officials at the site

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Tragedy in Kuwait: Kerala prepares for repatriation

A special charter plane is anticipated to bring back the bodies of those identified in the Kuwait fire incident by late Wednesday or early Thursday morning,” said Ajit Kolassery, CEO of NORKA, a Kerala government body for Non-Resident Keralites. In one of the worst fire accidents in recent UAE history, a blaze at NBTC camp-4 early on June 12 claimed 49 lives and left over 50 injured, with 9 in critical condition in Kuwaiti government run hospital’s ICU wards.

The charred remains
The charred remains

“We’ve been informed that about 24 bodies of Keralites have been identified and will soon be repatriated to their families in Kerala,” Kolassery added, noting they’ll arrive on special charter flights. Regarding flight details, a NORKA official said, “We don’t have confirmation yet on whether the charter flights will arrive directly in Kerala or via Delhi. The first flight is expected late Wednesday or early Thursday.” When asked if all 24 bodies will arrive together or on multiple flights, the official replied, “We don’t have those specifics at this time.”

Autopsy over

“We’ve completed the autopsy and begun the repatriation process. As of Wednesday afternoon, we knew of 15 identified bodies, but by evening, nine more were identified, all from Kerala,” said an official involved, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Out of the 49 deceased, nearly 48 have been identified: 45 Indians and 3 Filipinos. Among the Indians, 24 were from Kerala, with the rest from Tamil Nadu and Northern India,” the Kerala state government official added.

Most were non-labourers

“Most of the Keralites who died in the fire were in supervisory roles, not labourers,” according to NORKA officials. “We’ve received preliminary information indicating that NBTC is a group of companies run by KG Abraham, a businessman from Thiruvalla. Local Kuwaiti government officials have taken action against the municipal authorities for violating regulations and allowing the construction of the ground-plus-six floors structure,” said a source familiar with the matter.

No escape route

Preliminary inquiries indicate that the building’s ground floor, used by NBTC employees, housed a kitchen and mess facilities. At the time of the incident, there were approximately 15-20 gas cylinders in the kitchen area, which exploded, causing the fire to rapidly spread. Many employees were asleep and unable to escape as thick smoke engulfed the higher floors, complicating rescue efforts. “Most of them inhaled smoke, and some were found unconscious with severe burns. Unfortunately, many were asleep when the incident occurred,” the Kerala state government officials said.

State Health Minister in Kuwait

“Veena George, Kerala’s State Health Minister, departed for Kuwait late Wednesday evening to oversee the repatriation of bodies and provide assistance to the injured in government hospitals,” confirmed Jeevan Babu, Kerala State Mission Director, who is accompanying her. “I was in Thiruvananthapuram when I was informed to join the minister in Kuwait. Now, I’m heading to Kochi airport, which will take about six hours,” said Jeevan Babu.

Regarding assistance to victims and their families, Jeevan Babu stated, “Once we’re in Kuwait, we’ll assess the situation on the ground and make necessary arrangements. Given the scale of the incident involving both Central and State governments, decisions will be made at higher levels, which we’ll follow accordingly.” 

Reason for fire

“It’s one of the worst accidents in recent Kuwaiti history,” stated Sunoj Nambiar, a long-time resident and owner of a local news portal. “The NBTC camp 4 in Mangaf, about 30 kilometres from Kuwait City, housed employees of NBTC group of companies.” “Most deaths were due to suffocation as many were asleep,” Nambiar added. “These buildings rely on central air-conditioning, crucial in Kuwait’s extreme summer temperatures. The cause of the fire isn’t confirmed, but a short circuit is suspected, igniting gas cylinders.”

Nambiar emphasised, “I visited the site after hearing about the fire. Injured are receiving care in government hospitals, and Kuwaiti officials are investigating.” Nambiar added, “On late Thursday the local investigators pointed out that the fire was due to an electrical short circuit in the guards room on the ground floor.”

Compensating the dead

Apart from the ex-gratia amount of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin in fire incident, the state government of Kerala has announced an emergency fund of Rs 12 lakh, including Rs 5 lakh from government and additional funds of Rs 5 lakh and Rs 2 lakh from two local businessmen, collectively providing compensation amounting to Rs 12 lakh to the next of kin. The state government of Kerala will also provide R1 lakh each to the injured, pointed out, Kullasery. Additionally, the state government will seek assistance from Central government and Indian Embassy in Kuwait to support victims who have lost their travel documents.

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