AT least, seven persons were feared dead on Sunday when an explosion rocked the Port Harcourt Refinery Jetty in Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State.
It was gathered that several persons were seriously injured as a result of the explosion, which was allegedly triggered by the activities of pipeline vandals and oil thieves.
The PUNCH learnt that suspected oil thieves had tampered with one of the pipelines close to the refinery with the intention of stealing petroleum products.
A source explained that the action of the oil thieves had ignited a deafening noise and a huge fire around the jetty, leaving not less than seven persons dead.
The Chairman of Okrika Local Government Area, Mr. Tamuno Williams, who spoke in a telephone interview with The PUNCH on Sunday, confirmed the incident, adding that oil thieves were siphoning petroleum products to the creeks.
Williams said the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, was negligent.
He explained that though nobody was allowed to enter the scene of the incident, oil thieves in connivance with PPMC were allegedly responsible for the explosion.
He said, “Such activities, such connection, such highly technical work, well constructed by experts, could not have been perfectly done without the connivance of the PPMC.
“If you want to take any product and sell, I don’t have any problem with that. My quarrel is that their (PPMC) negligence is detrimental to the environment of Okrika.
“There was an explosion today (Sunday) because of the activities of the NNPC and their cohorts. That is the truth of the matter. Who did it, I don’t know. Who was there to watch over it, I don’t know. But I went there with the press; I was refused entry into the facility. So, what was there to hide?
“As you can see, there is no management staff of the NNPC or persons you can say are 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.
“From what I have been told, there are casualties. Seven persons were said to have lost their lives. When in Nigeria, you hear that seven persons died, it could be seven times seven times seven.”
A source said that those who suffered various degrees of burns were rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment.
Contacted, the Rivers State Assistant Police Public Relations Officer, Grace Koko-Iringe, confirmed the incident, but added that she did not have the detail of the number of casualties.
Also, the South-South Zonal Director of the National Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Emenike Umesi, told The PUNCH that the explosion occurred near the Port Harcourt Refinery. He explained that he had yet to get the details of casualties in the incident.
Speaking on the matter, the Executive Director, Services of the NNPC, Mr. Ralph Ugwu, dismissed Okrika Council chairman’s claim that pipeline vandals and PPMC officials were responsible for the explosion.
Ugwu explained that the explosion had no impact on the operations of the NNPC as the corporation did not record any casualty.
He said, “I don’t want to describe the man (council chairman) in anger. What he has said is a departure from the truth. What I want to confirm to you is that our jetty operations are up and running. Our refineries are also up and running.
“The incident has no impact on our operations whatsoever and on our own side as NNPC, there is no casualty and the incident has no impact on our refining operations or on our jetty operations.
“I don’t want to take issues with whoever is accusing who; whether it’s the PPMC or the vandals because I don’t want to say what I don’t know. The truth is that nemesis caught up with people that came to steal products. Their boat got exploded. I don’t know about the number of people that died, but on our own side, we have no casualty. I cannot speak on the thing that does not concern NNPC.”