At least 37 people, including two pregnant women, were burned to death after a blast in an illegal oil refinery in a community in River State, South-south Nigeria, a report has said.
The incident occurred in the early hours of Monday in the Ibaa community, in Rivers State, Reuters reported on Tuesday, quoting a local security official and community leader.
“Thirty-five people were caught in the fire. Two people who were lucky to escape also died this morning in the hospital,” Rufus Welekem, the head of security in the community was quoted by Reuters as saying.
“Relatives had identified some of the victims and taken them for burial,” he said.
The report added a witness saw the charred remains of 15 people in an open space surrounded by burnt palm trees and a motorbike.
Illegal oil refining involves siphoning off crude oil from pipelines and redirecting it into tanks, generally in bushes and forests, where the crude oil is boiled at high temperatures to turn it into different petroleum products.
In recent times, illegal oil refining has resulted in severe fatal accidents.
PREMIUM TIMES in April last year reported how many people were killed when an explosion rocked an illegal crude oil refinery in Abaezi forest, Ohaji-Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State.
This newspaper also reported in March that at least 12 people were confirmed dead following an oil pipeline explosion from an illegal oil bunkering site in the Rumuekpe community, in the Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Guardian newspaper reported in October 2021 how the illegal refining of petroleum products killed 20 people in the Rumuekpe community.
According to the newspaper, youths of the community were siphoning petroleum products from several pipelines within the stretch of the community when an explosion occurred.
Similarly, in April last year, Business Day newspaper reported that over 60 persons were killed in Imo-River’s illegal refinery explosion. The incident occurred at the boundary area of Rivers and Imo States.
In Rivers State, one of Nigeria’s oil-richest states, air pollution, especially the soot in Port Harcourt, the state capital, and its environs, has been attributed to the operation of illegal oil refineries.
Over the years, Nigeria has recorded a surge in pipeline vandalism and crude oil theft incidents in its oil-producing region, a development that worsened the nation’s revenue challenge.
Earlier in September, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, said Nigeria lost N16.25 trillion to crude oil theft between 2009 and 2020.
He said the menace of crude oil theft had hampered the growth of the country’s oil production, with between five and 30 per cent of crude oil production lost daily.
Security agents have frequently discovered illegal refining sites in the country’s oil-producing region.
In September, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) said troops of Operation Delta Safe have in the last two weeks, uncovered and destroyed 89 illegal refining sites in the Niger Delta region.
The Director of Defence Media Operations, Edward Buba, said the troops also discovered and destroyed 21 dugout pits, 56 boats, 138 storage tanks, 235 cooking ovens, six pumping machines, one outboard engine, and two speedboats.
He said the troops have recovered about 1.2 litres of stolen crude oil, 452,910 litres of illegally refined Automotive Gas Oil, 22,650 litres of Premium Motor Spirit and 3,000 litres.
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