The Dutch Safety Board has today published its findings from the reopened investigation into the Mortar Accident in Mali, in 2016. The Safety Board confirms that no new facts have emerged which could lead to a reconsideration of the conclusions from the previous investigation. The Dutch Safety Board reopened its own 2016 investigation following suggestions that a follow-up investigation by the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (KMar) had revealed new facts. It was alleged that these new facts raised questions about the course of events of the accident, as determined by the Dutch Safety Board. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, Chairman of the Dutch Safety Board, commented, “It is our duty to the next of kin and society as a whole to re-examine the facts, in the face of doubt. It is vital for the Safety Board that our reports are beyond all doubt. However, the reopened investigation did in fact provide further confirmation of our previous conclusions.”
Doubts about the origin of the mortar round fragments
After next of kin submitted a complaint against the Ministry of Defence to the Public Prosecution Service (OM) in April 2018, the OM commissioned the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (KMar) to conduct a further investigation. In this follow-up investigation, the KMar stated that the possibility could not be excluded that the investigated mortar round fragments had become mixed up with other mortar round fragments. This KMar investigation was not known to the Safety Board, until October 2021. After the Safety Board had been informed of the KMar investigation, it reopened its own accident investigation to examine the possible new facts.
Conclusions and recommendations from the 2017 report reconfirmed
The reopened investigation by the Dutch Safety Board did not reveal any new facts. The investigation did however provide additional information, confirming the previous conclusions. The Safety Board was able to confirm its findings about the gathering up of the mortar round fragments following the fatal accident. The investigated mortar round fragments had not been mixed up with other mortar round fragments. The fragments from the mortar round in the accident were gathered up and removed immediately following the accident. Other rounds were destroyed at a later date. These facts were confirmed by witnesses from the French unit present in Mali at the time.
In its first report, the Dutch Safety Board stated that the mortar round fragments showed that the detonator mechanism of the mortar round was unstable. As a result of moisture and heat, oxidation had taken place inside the mortar round. This in turn led to the formation of copper azide crystals in the detonator mechanism. Copper azide is a shock-sensitive, explosive substance, which caused the early detonation of the mortar round. This scenario was also confirmed by an ammunition expert, employed by the Defence Equipment and Support Division of the British Ministry of Defence, who prepared an independent report on behalf of the Dutch Public Prosecution Service.
Attention for ammunition management
The first investigation by the Dutch Safety Board revealed that the procedures for the procurement, management and use of ammunition within the Defence organization did not comply with the organization’s own guidelines. Following the fatal accident in Mali, the remaining around 10,000 rounds were removed from service and are still awaiting dismantling. To this day, it is important that the safety and health of the Defence employees involved in the dismantling process be safeguarded. In the light of the history of this fatal accident, it is recommended that the Minister of Defence periodically informs the Dutch House of Representatives about the progress of the dismantling process and the quality improvements in ammunition management procedures.