No fewer than seven persons were feared dead following an explosion that rocked
the Port Harcourt Refinery Jetty at Okrika, in Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State yesterday.
It was gathered that vandals had tampered with one of the pipelines of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, at a jetty near Okrika, leading to an explosion.
Although the casualty figure was put at seven by sources, it was learnt that scores of people were said to have suffered severe burns.
A staff of the refinery, who did not want his name mentioned, said at least seven persons were burnt as a result of the explosion, adding that most of them were vandals siphoning oil after bursting a pipeline.
The source added that those who suffered severe burns were taken to an undisclosed hospital for treatment.
The Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Tunde Ogunsakin, confirmed the explosion to National Mirror. He said that the fire was as a result of the activities of oil pipeline vandals.
Also, the Chairman, Okrika Local Government Area, Tamunu Williams, confirmed that the incident was as a result of vandals trying to siphon oil.
Williams said: “The fire incident is as a result of oil thieves who were siphoning oil from NNPC pipelines. As you can see, there is no management staff of the NNPC or persons in-charge of the corporation’s operations here.
“The gates of the NNPC remain closed to visitors, so, we have not seen anybody that we can officially complain to.
“I am speaking from the gate of the NNPC and I have been advised to come on Monday when the officials of the NNPC who are incharge here will be on the ground. The number of casualties cannot be properly ascertained as I speak due to the nature of the terrain within and around the jetty.
“Those who survived were said to have been severely burnt. A lot of things are shrouded in secrecy. We have seen the fire but the NNPC has not giving us permission to go in and verify the enormity of the damage.
“The security there is intensive, yet no NNPC staff wants to speak with us. Since they are not ready to go, we chose to go there ourselves. There are, indeed, casualties, but the number of casualties we cannot really confirm. We have been to the creek and we saw the pipelines connections.”
Williams appealed to the management of NNPC to provide adequate protection and security for their pipelines and equipment so as not to endanger the lives of the people of Okrika.
“From what we saw, there is negligence on the part of the NNPC in the maintenance of their equipment. Their equipment and pipes are in a state of disrepair. NNPC should take time to invest in the maintenance of their equipment,” he added.
Spokesman of the Port Harcourt Refinery, Mr. Ralph Ugwu, however, said the fire did not affect the operations of the company, stressing that the refinery was up and running; even as he blamed the incident on vandals.
“The refinery is up and running. We are receiving products and PMM from the jetty too. No member of staff of NNPC or Port Harcourt Refinery was affected in the fire. The situation has no impact on our operations at all.
“What happened was that vandals came to siphon oil and it resulted in fire. It is not in my place to mention any casualty figure because it happened outside our jurisdiction,” Ugwu said.