By Emma Arubi, Warri
Pandemonium took over the entire Warri Refining and Petrochemical Company, WRPC and its sister company, the Product and Pipeline Marketing Company, PPMC, both subsidiaries of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Monday evening when like a tragic bolt from the blues fire explosion engulfed the loading Island of the PPMC depot.
The PPMC is the marketing and distribution arm of the NNPC whose depot facilities supply petroleum products through fuel tankers and pipeline networks to various parts of Nigeria.
The incident which took everyone by surprise started from the usually congested loading bay, according to sources, as a result of a spark from a tanker with battery problem. Another source told Vanguard Metro that it was caused by a tanker which in the process of trying to reverse after loading, hit its rear against an iron rod, resulting in a spark that set the commercial centre on fire.
Whatever is the immediate cause, one thing is certain: There was a spark that changed the course of event at the depot for almost five hours before the raging inferno was brought under control by men of the NNPC and SPDC fire services that excluded the fire service of nearby Chevron Nigeria Limited, CNL.
In the confusion that ensued nobody was ready to speak, especially as they had no idea then what actually happened. Indeed, running for the safety of one’s life was the main preoccupation at that moment, except for men of the fire service department who stood up to the challenge.
Ultimately, at the end of the day, goods, services and products worth millions of naira had been consumed by the unfriendly visitor, not to talk of the lost of precious human lives.
Speaking to Vanguard Metro, a top PPMC officer who does not want his name in print revealed that the PPMC lost the following to the inferno: Five of the PPMC loading arms were destroyed, half of the loading bay and its roof were burnt, while four petrol tankers were razed. He was, however, not emphatic on the number of persons who lost their lives, but stated that as far as he knows for now, only one of the truck boys died, while one truck driver was seriously burnt and is receiving treatment at an undisclosed hospital.
But Delta State Police Public Relation Officer, PPRO, ASP Charles Muka told newsmen that two persons lost their lives while one was severely injured. Whatever is the case, the total cost of the destruction visited on the PPMC is no doubt enormous. Even then, what does the fire outbreak portend for Deltans? Fuel scarcity in the offing? Yes or no?
The state Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan who paid a visit to the depot and was conducted round the scene of the explosion after a thorough briefing by Mr. Sunday Edegbo, the depot manager and Joseph Edeamrere, Community Relations Officer, told Deltans not to engage in panic buying as the depot has enough products to meet their demands.
Speaking through his Commissioner for Oil and Gas, Mr. David Ekerekosu, Governor Uduaghan assured that “there was no cause for alarm. The management has assured that supply of fuel would not be affected. We urge all Deltans not to panic over what has happened even if we cannot for now ascertain the cause of the fire outbreak. We want to assure all that there are sufficient products to go round. The good news is that there will be no scarcity of petroleum products. The depot will bounce back to full operation and there should be no panic buying”.
Truly, repair works on the damaged and affected area have begun as at Wednesday according to a top management staff who further disclosed that the corporation has set up various committees to investigate the remote and immediate cause of the ugly incident.
Be that as it may, one question on the lips of everyone now is: Who pays for the damages incurred during the incident? Who takes responsibility for the four burnt tankers inside the premises of the PPMC as they are purely privately owned by independent marketers. No doubt, insurance companies and the management of the NNPC are expected to engage in some legal gymnastics when the real time for reckoning comes.