Why was Dr. Valery killed at the Haifa container terminal?

Chronicle of a death foretold: After 17 years as a general worker at the Overseas Commerce container terminal in Haifa, Dr. Valery Bundrenko was killed in an appalling accident on Oct. 9, 2011, when a container crushed him to death. Truck drivers and workers at the terminal report a high number of accidents which only by a miracle did not claim the lives of workers.

Chronicle of a death foretold: After 17 years as a general worker at the Overseas Commerce container terminal in Haifa, Dr. Valery Bundrenko was killed in an appalling accident on Oct. 9, 2011, when a container crushed him to death. Truck drivers and workers at the terminal report a high number of accidents which only by a miracle did not claim the lives of workers.

Valery Bundrenko was crushed to death by a shipping container during his work at the Haifa container terminal operated by Overseas Commerce Ltd. His colleagues claim there have been many accidents recently which, they say, could have been avoided if safety regulations were put into practice. The company is proud of its workers, and asserts on its website that they are its most important asset for success, but has Overseas Commerce done all it can to protect this important asset?

On the Sukkoth Jewish holiday eve, I visited the Bundrenko family in Haifa. Valery’s widow Jeniya and his son Alex were happy to receive me. With other family members who were present, they told me about the deceased, with a little help in translating from Russian to Hebrew. The Bundrenko family came to Haifa from Ukraine at the end of 1994. Valery, who was a doctor for 35 years specializing in intensive care and emergency services, was compelled to seek alternative work because of language and acclimatization difficulties in his new country. After a few months, he began working at the Overseas terminal via Peer Manpower Services Ltd., until he was taken on directly by Overseas in 2005, where he worked diligently until the day he died – and his age, 69 at the time of his death, is testimony to his industriousness.

The family lives on the fourth floor of an apartment building in the Hadar Neighborhood. The living room where we sat is full of Russian literature, and on a small table there is a computer connected to the internet. In response to our question, they said Valery liked to read classic world and Russian literature as well as professional medical literature. Though Valery was employed in unskilled work since coming to Israel, it’s clear that the family members are highly educated. An enlarged picture of Valery, showing him full of life, underlines his absence and intensifies the sense of catastrophe that changed their lives so suddenly.

How did such an accident happen? After all, he was an experienced, skilled worker. The family doesn’t know; they say the case is still under investigation. They only know he went off for a day’s work at the Haifa container terminal and didn’t come back. An article (in Hebrew) posted in the Ynet news website on the day of the accident does nothing to clear up the mystery. The reporter notes that a container fell from a crane onto the worker, who is about 60 years old, for reasons that are still not clear. But in a Channel 2 news item edited by Yossi Mizrahi, ZAKA staff member Zvika Fried sheds some light on the issue and hints at what occurred. According to his understanding of events, he said, the container didn’t fall. It was simply lowered, and the worker was killed on the spot. It may be understood from this that the crane operator didn’t even see Valery, and simply lowered the container onto him. In the Channel 2 item, a former employee at the container terminal says that there are clear regulations which state that a crane operator must be directed by someone who signals that the area is clear. In this case there was nobody directing. If there had been someone to direct, there would have been no accident. So it seems the operators’ safety procedures are impaired, he continues – the company doesn’t invest in this much because there is a shortage of manpower, and one person is compelled to do the tasks of three.

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About Dani Ben-Simhon