Petrol tanker fire claims six lives in Rivers

SweetCrude Reports gathered that the petrol tankers, each laden with 33,000 litres of suspected illegally refined Automotive Gasoline Oil, were set ablaze by operatives of the Anti-bunkering Unit of the Nigerian Police Force.

The fire incident which occured on Saturday and razed through Sundayn happened beside a bush near Trailer Park Junction, along the Eteo axis of the East West Road.

An eyewitness, Nwigbalor Gideon, who is a member of One Million Youth Volunteers Network of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters in the Niger Delta, said the drivers of the two tankers were forced at gunpoint to drive into the bush, where the security agents set the tankers ablaze.

Gideon alleged that the drivers may have refused to give monetary inducement to the security agents, which led the security operatives to set the trucks ablaze.

“They (security agents) forced the truck owners at gunpoint to drive to the point where this happened. Remember, things like this often happen when the tanker drivers refused to settle them for the amount of money, they demanded from them.

“I saw many residents scooping and transporting it away. As the fire was set on the tankers and they started burning, they exploded, and the products poured out and they could scoop it at distances while also burning apart.”

The eyewitness also said since AGO does not burn as fast as PMS coupled with the fact that it was also poorly refined by artisanal refiners, it was easier for locals to scoop the products as it oozed out from the truck.

Speaking on the development, the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre, YEAC said there should be a provision in the Petroleum Industry Act, where security operatives who set ablaze petrol tankers and vessels could be dragged to court.

Executive Director of YEAC, Mr Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, explained that security agents should be dragged to court under the PIA, since host community people who caused pollution can forfeit their 3percent as stipulated in the Act.

Fyneface lamented that setting ablaze oil tankers and stolen petroleum products would only further damage the already degraded Niger Delta environment.

“The burning of two tankers of 33,000 litres each has caused the spilling of 66,000 litres of AGO into the environment. So, if the PIA says communities will be criminalized and penalized with even the withholding of the percent, then we can see how to push this advocacy for security operatives that set ablaze tankers and vessels can also be dragged to court under this Act.

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“In fact, like Shylock over the pound of flesh, they can set ablaze tankers, but they should not spill its contents.

“The number one reason for confiscating and impounding the tankers is because they’re allegedly carrying illegal petroleum products. The reason for setting it ablaze is a combination of the fact that it is carrying illegal petroleum products and they also refused to settle them with something substantial, thus wasting their time.”

Confirming the death of six persons from the fire explosion, YEAC said about six persons including security agents are feared killed and others hospitalized as at today, Sunday.

“Incomplete combustion of the tankers occurred yesterday with the tanker still standing and partially burnt. As such, many community people who have been having a filled day scooping products since the incident occurred were at the scene today for more scooping of products.

“As a result of the increased product scooping activity, with some of the scoopers climbing the tankers that were still standing with some product in them, led to an explosion in the precess, leading to the alleged deaths, burns and injuries to those caught in the fire including a dead body said to be in “security uniform”

Advocacy Centre further called on the Police and other relevant authority to visit the site of the incident immediately and stop residents of the area from further going to the site to scoop petroleum products.

“Fire Service should also be drafted to the scene to ensure that all remnants of fire is put out and the debris of the tankers safely evacuated and the area cleaned up to restore the environment that has been damaged by the Police Operatives who carried out this environmental crime against the people in the process of stopping another organized crime in the wrong way, as it is their usual practice in the Niger Delta.”

Meanwhile, as at the time of filing this report, the Rivers State Police Command is yet to comment on the development.

When contacted, the Police Public Relations Officer in Rivers State, SP Grace Koko, said she was unaware of the incident and would get back to us later.

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