France to boost security at industrial plants

The French government has been forced to increase security at sensitive industrial sites after two explosions at a petrochemical plant on Tuesday were believed to have been a “malicious act”.

France to boost security at industrial plants
Smoke billows from a petrochemical plant operated by LyondellBasell in Berre-l'Etang near Marseille. Photo: AFP

The country’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve moved on Wednesday to reinforce protection at industrial sites across France amid fears more locations could be vulnerable.

The move comes after a twin explosion at a petrochemical plant in in Berre-l'Etang near Marseille-Marignane airport, that authorities believed was purposeful and “malicious” act.

Cazeneuve sent out an urgent note on Wednesday to all local authorities asking them to make contact with those responsible for the industrial sites so inspections can be carried out on all sites and security systems could be checked.

Special focus was placed on the 1,171 highly sensitive sites classed as SEVESO – meaning that if there was an accident it could spark serious and immediate consequences.

The explosions at Berre-l’Etang saw two tanks full of petrol and naphtha — a flammable liquid distilled from petroleum — caught fire after the blasts and a thick cloud of smoke was visible several kilometres away.

The fire in the first tank of petrol was extinguished fairly quickly, but firefighters only managed to put out the second blaze by late morning using foam, local authorities said.

The plant is operated by chemical firm LyondellBasell, which said the fires were not toxic.

A source close to the case said investigators believed the explosions were the result of “a malicious act.”

“The probability that these two fires in tanks 500 metres (1,640 feet) apart could be accidental is very low. Investigators are leaning towards the theory of a voluntary act,” another informed source said.

Prosecutors have opened a probe into the incident.    

Asked whether there was any link with the theft earlier this month of explosives and detonators from a military base some 30 kilometres (19 miles) away, local official Jean-Marc Senateur said it was too early to tell.

Thieves broke into a vast army logistics base in Miramas overnight on July 5, stealing at least 150 detonators and a stock of plastic explosives.

The facility, which houses some 200 soldiers, is used to stockpile weapons for foreign missions, such as those in Africa.

The thieves have still not been caught.


Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.