PORT HARCOURT – ABOUT ten persons were feared dead in the early hours of yesterday in a petrol fire explosion at a creek close to the NNPC jetty in Okrika, headquarters of Okrika local government area in Rivers state.
Chairman of the local government, Mr Tamuno Williams who spoke to newsmen said scores of persons were also rushed to undisclosed hospitals for various degree of burns.
He further blamed the ugly development on illegal siphoning of crude oil from NNPC facilities in the area by illegal oil bunkers.
Continuing, the Chairman of the council, Mr Williams said it would be difficult to tie a figure to the number of casualties because of the terrain.
While appealing to the NNPC to protect its facilities in the area from attack by vandals the Chairman said the government had continued to put measures in place to discourage acts of illegal bunkering in the area.
“The number of casualties cannot be properly ascertained for now due to the nature of the terrain where the incident happened and the level of security within and around the NNPC Jetty.
“The fire incident is as a result of oil thieves who were siphoning oil from NNPC pipelines”.
“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 in-charge here will be on 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 have not given 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.”
“From what we saw, there is negligence on the part of the NNPC in the maintenance of their equipment. There equipment and pipes are in a state of disrepair.
NNPC should take time to invest in the maintenance of their equipment.”, the local government chairman regretted.
Community sources said the incident happened at about 1am yesterday. The sources who also blamed some officials of the NNPC for the ugly incident said some persons had allegedly come to lift crude from the facility, adding that as soon as they left some youths also allegedly went in fly boats to help themselves.
Vanguard gathered that the crude burst into flames killing some persons because of an alleged spark on an engine in one of the flyboats used by the oil thieves. ” The engine of the fly boat was not covered so there was a spark that resulted in the fire. You know crude is highly inflammable”, a source said.
The sources said some persons may have been burnt to death in the sea, adding that government should investigate staff of NNPC and security men deployed to protect oil facilities in the area.
When contacted, the state Police command confirmed the fire incident, saying that it could have been cursed by the activities of oil thieves.
No official of NNPC in the media department at the Port Harcourt refinery was ready to comment on the development when contacted via mobile phone.