29 Dead in Shell Oil Well fire
|19th May 2004
|TRAGEDY struck at Afam in Oyigbo local government area of Rivers State Sunday as over 29 persons were killed in a fire outbreak at Shell oil well in the area.
A source told Daily Champion that the fire was caused by a disagreement among indigenes of the three communities in Afam over the sharing formula for "royalties" from the illegal bunkerers who have turned the Shell oil well head into an illegal bunkering.
The three communities had been contesting the ownership of the land on which the well head is sited with each insisting on taking the lion's share of the booty.
It was learnt that during the disagreement, one of the people brought out a lighter and cigarette and ignited the fire.
A police source told Daily Champion that 10 persons were buried at Afam Uta, another 10 at Obe Akpu and nine at Afam Ukuru while others with five burns are in unknown hospitals in the area.
The source who trailed some of the victims to a private hospital in Okwali said they saw four victims who were badly burnt but when the police left they were evacuated from the hospital.
Our correspondent saw an unidentified burnt corpse near the scene of the incident and a trail of footprints running from the scene to Afam Ukwu.
Before the fire outbreak, two tankers have already loaded from that Sunday and left and when the fire erupted the third tanker and all persons present were trapped by the inferno.
Deputy Governor, Sir Gabriel Toby, when he visited the scene sympathised with the families of the victims.
He warned the people to desist from illegal bunkering and other activities that are illegitimate, pointing out that many have perished in the quest of looking for little things whereas there is no compensation for loss of lives.
The deputy governor admonished community leaders, traditional rulers and council chairman to live up to their responsibility of checking the activities of undesirable elements in their domain.
He said there was no way bunkering or other illegal activities can take place in a community without the knowledge of the leaders.
The communities, Sir Gabriel insisted, are responsible for the protection of their environment as well as ward off those who have no legitimate business in their areas.
He advocated intensive public enlightenment to sensitise people to desist from such acts.
General Manager, Eastern Operation, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), Mr. Mutiu Sunmonu lamented that the company lost 40,000 barrels per day to illegal bunkering.
Sunmonu stated that Shell cannot at present quantify its loss in the Afam vandalisation, adding that the fire would be put off and the place will be clean up.
Forty eight hours after the incident the fire was still raging on as our correspondent left the scene noon Tuesday.
About 12.30 yesterday, there were fire vehicles from Shell, Elf and the State Fire Service at the scene with more than 22 fire machines to battle the raging inferno.