Saturday 21 July 2012

Explosion aboard oil vessel in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

A series of explosions aboard an oil vessel undergoing repairs in Port Harcourt, the capitol of Rivers State in Nigeria, is feared to have killed between 11 and 30 people at about 9.45 am on Friday 20 July 2012. The explosion was reportedly caused when welders attempted to begin repairs on the vessels fuel tanks which had reportedly been leaking, and which had apparently not been correctly flushed prior to the work beginning. The casualties are said to include members of the welding team, the ship's crew and a number of local students who were visiting the harbour area. The name of the vessel and its operators have not yet been released; it is unclear if this is a locally or internationally operated vessel.

Fire crews at the docks in Port Harcourt.

Nigeria is a major oil-exporting country, but oil operators in the Delta region are often accused of having a cavalier attitude to the environment and the safety of both their employees and the wider local population. This week regulators in Nigeria recommended that oil giant Shell be fined US$5 billion for its role in a major offshore spill in the Bonga Oil Field in 2011. Shell do not deny the spill was caused by faulty equipment at their offshore facility, but claim there is no basis in Nigerian law for imposing the fine. Whatever the outcome it is probably not a good time for Shell to be having a public dispute with the Nigerian authorities over their safety and environmental record, as they have been subjected to a series of high-profile demonstrations by environmental group Greenpeace, who are concerned that Shell's attempts to open up new oil fields in the Arctic could lead to unacceptable levels of risk to fragile Arctic environments.

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme last year was extremely critical of oil companies in the Niger Delta, and recommended that considerable investment be made in infrastructure and spill prevention.

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