Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1263, (17 - 30 September 2015)
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1263, (17 - 30 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Lessons of the Mecca crane crash

The cause of last week’s crane collapse on the Grand Mosque in Mecca is under investigation by the Saudi authorities, writes Hatem Ezz Eldin in Mecca

Lessons of the Mecca crane crash
Lessons of the Mecca crane crash
Al-Ahram Weekly

 

Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz had three main messages when he visited the Grand Mosque in Mecca on Saturday to inspect the damage caused by the crane’s collapse on the mosque, a tragedy that claimed the lives of 110 people on Friday and left dozens wounded.

His first message was to re-examine the safety measures taken by the developers of the Haram expansion project in the days before the Hajj season starts, his second was the need to punish those responsible for the incident, and his third was to stress the continuity of the expansion project, which is designed to facilitate the movement of pilgrims as they perform their rituals.

On Monday, the king received the draft of an initial investigation of the disaster and pledged to move quickly against those responsible. Pictures of the incident on Twitter and Facebook showed dozens of bodies covered with blood inside the Haram, where the top part of the crane, which appeared to have bent or snapped, had crashed into the main mosque building.

On Tuesday, King Salmanordered a travel ban on board members of the construction firm Bin Laden until investigation results are out and ordered it will receive no further projects in the Kingdom following the crane incident.

In the aftermath of the deadly incident, some raised questions about the safety measures taken by the developer of the Haram expansion, the Binladen Group, and argued that the firm had not taken enough precautions to prevent the occurrence of such a disaster given the rapid variations in weather conditions that Mecca has been witnessing.

The crane fell in strong winds, but social media pictures show that lightning might have hit it and caused it to collapse. Some experts said they believed the crane crash was due to the coming away of part of it, upsetting its balance.
Such incidents have been rare in the history of expansion work at the mosque. This could give the developer, in charge for several years, some of the credit for the past good safety record.

“I have sent my condolences to the relatives of those who lost their lives and hope those who were injured will recover quickly. I look forward to finding out whether this incident was the result of a mistake or neglect on the part of the construction company, and, if so, look forward to seeing it held accountable,” said Najat Al-Saied, a Saudi media expert and professor at Zayed University in Dubai, echoing the demands of a large sector of Saudi society to punish those responsible.

An engineer for the developer told the French news agency AFP that the crane had been installed in an extremely professional way and that there had been no technical problems, describing what had happened as “an act of God.”

Natural factors were responsible for another disaster that took place in Saudi Arabia in 1997 when at least 340 pilgrims were killed in a fire at the tent city of Mina after the blaze was fanned by high winds.
More than 1,500 people were injured. The Saudi authorities then decided to use fire-resistant tents in Mina as one of the main safety procedures used before the Hajj starts.

King Salman appeared on state TV on the weekend, vowing that the authorities would investigate the cause of the disaster and publish the results. His words were welcomed, and the Saudi public also praised the quick response of the authorities following the incident.

Mecca Governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal has given the authorities concerned two days to repair the areas damaged by the crane’s fall. Civil defence units in the city dealt immediately with the incident and set up committees to investigate the causes. Healthcare officials recruited 36 medical teams and supported emergency departments with medical and technical staff.

“It was a complete disaster. I ran when I heard a loud sound that I did not recognise. People were screaming and crying,” said an Egyptian pilgrim at the site. “I saw how quickly the Saudi security guards reacted to save the victims and offer their help, however. I did not know whether I could perform the ishaa prayer later on the same day with enough tranquility, but I did.”

The Saudi public rejected attempts to attack government policies on protecting pilgrims making the Hajj to Mecca. “I hope this incident won’t be exploited by some opportunists against Saudi Arabia, claiming that it shows it is not able properly to protect the pilgrims,” Al-Saied said.

Some social media channels have been carrying criticisms of the Saudi authorities, often from supporters of Iran, though these are chiefly on political grounds and have nothing to do with the crane crash itself.
It is clear that the Saudi authorities will not retreat from implementing the third expansion phase of the Grand Mosque because of the incident. The major project is considered one of their main commitments to serving the worldwide Muslim community.

The current development, initiated by the late King Abdullah and supported by five new projects launched by King Salman in July this year, will increase the capacity of the facility to accommodate 1.85 million worshippers, up from the current 1.25 million.

The work includes building new bridges and expanding flyovers, expanding the Mataf and Masaa areas, building new security centres and new service tunnels, and expanding external parks. The Saudi government has spent over 70 billion riyals ($18.7 billion) on the expansion projects over the last couple of years.
It is also expected that the incident will not affect the Hajj season, which usually accommodates up to 2.2 million people every year. Flights to Saudi Arabia are currently on the rise, and pilgrim numbers could outperform last year’s.
However, the crane crash will always be remembered like other incidents that have tragically affected the Hajj, either in the form of pilgrim stampedes or tent fires in Mina. The expansion of the Haram will result in the smoother movement of pilgrims, but the need to ensure the efficiency of safety measures is paramount.

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