Singapore

Coroner's inquiry reveals that foreign workers in illegal dorm died of smoke inhalation

Coroner's inquiry into deaths of two foreign workers after fire breaks out in illegal dorm

The two foreign workers were asleep in their room when a fire broke out in the adjacent room.

Even as fellow occupants of their illegal dormitory yelled and made for the exit, the two Bangladeshis remained unaware of the impending danger in their bunk.

Before long, they were overcome by toxic fumes and smoke.

By the time Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers found the two construction workers in the burning apartment, they were motionless and unresponsive.

One of them was still lying on the lower bunk of his bunk bed while the other was on the floor after his attempt to escape had failed.

Mr Mamun Abdullah All, 20, and Mr Hosen Ali, 22, were pronounced dead minutes later on April 3.

Details of the tragedy emerged during an inquiry into their deaths yesterday.

State Coroner Marvin Bay said in his findings that the two men died from smoke inhalation. He ruled out foul play and said their deaths were a tragic misadventure.

The second-storey apartment at 86A, Lorong 6 Geylang where Mr Mamun and Mr Hosen were living had been illegally partitioned into 12 rooms and housed 32 other foreign workers. (See report on facing page.)

At about 4am on April 3, the SCDF was alerted to a "big fire" at the apartment.

When SCDF and police officers arrived, 26 occupants had already fled the building using the main entrance.

JUMPED

Three others made a daring escape by jumping out of a second-storey window, with one man spraining his wrist.

Three other occupants were not in the premises at the time.

SCDF officers then entered the building, which had thick, black smoke billowing out, to search for casualties.

They found Mr Hosen and Mr Mamun lying face-up in one of the rooms. Mr Hosen was on the lower deck of his bunk bed and his roommate was on the floor.

They appeared lifeless as they were carried out of the building by SCDF officers. They were pronounced dead at the scene at 4.59am.

Yesterday, SCDF's lead fire investigator, Major Andy Choo, told the inquiry that the fire, believed to be electrical in nature, originated from the room just beside the two victims' room.

Maj Choo said he and his team found remnants of extension plugs and other appliances in that room.

He also said that it was common practice among the other occupants to daisy chain multiple extension plugs.

This can result in overloading and a fire, he said.

After the fire broke out, smoke and other combustion gases could have seeped into the victims' room - through gaps in the partition - and rendered them unconscious, Maj Choo said.

In his findings, Mr Bay said that Mr Mamun could have woken up and tried to escape, but was quickly overcome by the toxic smoke and gases.

As a result, it was possibly why he was found on the floor.

It was likely that Mr Hosen died in his sleep after inhaling large amounts of smoke, he said.

When The New Paper visited the apartment yesterday, it was filled with prayer statues and lion dance costumes and equipment.

TNP understands that a family now lives in the apartment, which is also used as a meeting place for a Chinese association.

Of the 34 occupants, three were not on the premises at time of fire

In Room 8, Mr Islam Mohammed Rakibul woke up to a room full of thick smoke and ran to safety without informing the workers in Rooms 9 and 10.

Apartment had 34 tenants

I wasn't aware. I wasn't aware. I wasn't aware.

That was what the people involved in the Lorong 6 Geylang apartment told the authorities regarding the use of the premises, the coroner's inquiry heard yesterday.

First, the owners of the apartment - four family members consisting of Mr Ramasamy Vesuvanathan, 60, Madam Thangavelu Anjalay, 61, Mr Vaiyappuray Baalakrishnan, 60, and Madam Kunavathi Chinniah, 55.

They said they were not aware that the unit was being used to house 34 foreign workers.

Under Urban Redevelopment Authority rules, a rental unit cannot be partitioned to create more rooms and there can be a maximum of eight occupants in the unit, regardless of the unit size.

This occupancy cap was also stated in the tenancy agreement between the unit's owners and the main tenant, Mr Ho Kien Heng, police investigation officer Staff Sergeant Ng Gim Hwee told the court yesterday.

Mr Ho rented the premises to a sub-tenant, Mr Neo Wee Seng, 41.

'NOT AWARE'

Mr Ho claimed that he was not aware that Mr Neo had rented out the apartment to 34 occupants.

Mr Neo claimed he was not aware of the occupancy cap stated in the tenancy agreement.

With the help of a friend, Mr Jahir Raihan Dillal Hossain, a Bangladeshi, Mr Neo rented the apartment to the foreign workers, including the two victims.

He received about $7,000 a month in rent from the foreign workers and paid $5,600 to the unit's owners.

Mr Neo told the authorities that he knew that the apartment was housing over 30 occupants, but claimed he did not know who built the partitions.

His friend, Mr Jahir, returned to Bangladesh on the day of the fire, claiming that he had "urgent matters" to attend to back home and could no longer be contacted, Staff Sergeant Ng said.

No one answered the door when The New Paper visited Mr Neo's home in Eunos yesterday.

The New Paper understands that investigations into a possible prosecution of those responsible for violating the occupancy cap are still ongoing.

Such offenders can be fined up to $200,000 under the Planning Act.

Illegal dorms unsafe: State Coroner

Yesterday, State Coroner Marvin Bay warned contractors and workers about the dangers of these illegal dormitories.

"Workers who are tempted to take up these accommodations should be made aware of the fact that these improvised dormitories may be illicitly and hastily set up, without the obtaining of proper prior approval, and without due or appropriate consideration of necessary and prudent safety measures that should be taken in the event of a fire," Mr Bay said in his findings.

In less than six months, six men, including the two men in this case, died when fires broke out in two unauthorised dormitories.

In December 2014, a fire in a Lorong 4 Geylang walk-up flat killed four Malaysian workers.

SingaporeGeylangfireUncategorisedDeath