Nigerian fuel tanker explosion leaves at least 30 dead

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A fuel tanker explosion in Nigeria has left at least 30 dead. The disaster occurred near a busy bus station in Port Harcourt.

Port Harcourt is located in an oil rich area, and is the central point of the Nigerian oil industry, which has a value of billions of US Dollars. It is consequently a regular target for extremists, but a police spokesman said terrorism is not believed to be a factor.

According to CNN, the same spokesman said a car's driver lost control whilst being chased by police, striking the tanker and triggering the explosion. However, AFP reports that the tanker itself was being chased for carrying stolen petrol, and said the vehicle overturned after hitting a barricade on a partially constructed section of road in a bid to escape. The Associated Press (AP) makes no mention of a police chase, and says the lorry overturned after suffering a blowout.

A map of Nigeria, the red dot shows the area where the incident took place

The crash occurred at a major junction in Eleme district. Fuel was spilled over cars and shop entrances before igniting. Local shop owner Matthew Eliagwu described the disaster to AP: "I heard a loud bang and I came out of my shop. I saw fire running down towards my shop, but I escaped. It was impossible to help anyone, because I had to run for my life."

At least 15 vehicles are known to have been destroyed, ten of which were buses, as well as 20 shops. Most victims are believed to be street vendors in the vicinity of the tanker at the time. It took hours for firefighters to bring the flames under control. At present no figures are available for numbers of injuries, but at least 30 are dead.

AFP reports that although no arrests have yet been confirmed, local residents placed the tanker's driver amongst the survivors and said he was receiving treatment in a local hospital.

Nigeria is the world's eighth-largest exporter of crude oil, although violence has caused this to be reduced by over a quarter. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has claimed responsibility for a series of recent attacks, including one aimed at four ships in the Bonny Channel - the nation's largest oil and gas terminal - and an explosion and fire yesterday on a seagoing oil tanker berthed in Port Harcourt's sea terminal.

Fuel tanker and pipeline explosions are common in Nigeria, often triggered by looters. Just eleven days ago, on January 1, another fuel tanker rolled over and caught fire in Port Harcourt, destroying dozens of shops and houses, although there were no fatalities. In March 2007 an overturned tanker in Kaduna State exploded whilst being targeted by looters, killing 93.

Accidents are common as the country's roads are inadequately maintained, as are many of the vehicles that use them. Death tolls are often high because vendors crowd many major roadways.