Chinese police arrest 12 over Tianjin explosions

Among detained are chairman, vice-chairman of company that stored chemicals

The aftermath at the scene of a massive explosion in the port city of Tianjin in China. Photograph: EPA/STR CHINA OUT

The aftermath at the scene of a massive explosion in the port city of Tianjin in China. Photograph: EPA/STR CHINA OUT


Chinese police have arrested 12 people suspected of involvement in this month’s massive explosions in the city of Tianjin that killed 139 people and devastated the port area, the state-run Xinhua news agency said on Thursday.

Among those arrested were the chairman, vice-chairman and three deputy general managers of the logistics company that had been storing the chemicals that blew up, the agency said, quoting police.

Authorities said a total of 23 people were detained or under investigation.

Also detained were employees of the company that owned the warehouse that was at the epicentre of the explosion and employees of the company that conducted the safety assessment of the warehouse.

The authorities described the detainees as directly responsible for the blasts in Tianjin, according to a report by Xinhua.

In making the announcement, prosecutors described Tianjin officials as “severely irresponsible” for failing to catch a number of violations committed by the owners of the warehouse, Rui Hai International Logistics.

They noted that Tianjin officials, for instance, awarded a permit to Rui Hai, despite its “illegal operation,” according to Xinhua.

The warehouse, which routinely handled highly toxic chemicals like sodium cyanide, was allowed to operate near apartment buildings and a train station, violating Chinese regulations.

Chinese leaders have moved vigorously in recent days to quell outrage over the blasts, which rattled top leaders and raised new questions about the safety of China’s ambitious industrial zones.

On Wednesday, officials announced the chief of the state administration of work safety had been removed from his post, and earlier this month they detained several other employees at Rui Hai.

On Thursday, prosecutors said that the Rui Hai employees who had been detained included company executives as well as managers of safety and operations. The announcement made clear that the government’s investigation was broadening to include public servants who were supposed to act as watchdogs. Instead, prosecutors said, they often shirked their duties.

The blasts set off a furious public response. Local residents organized protests and demanded compensation for damaged homes, and environmental activists criticized the government’s cleanup efforts.