Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, did not mince words yesterday when he was asked about the deadly fuel tank fire at the Matautu wharf on Monday.
“This is what happens when people are negligent,” he said.
According to Tuilaepa, if the fire had spread to the other two tanks nearby, he is certain the entire Apia Township would have been affected.
“If it exploded, it would’ve burnt the Tusitala, the big government buildings heading to the Parliament house and other buildings because this (in Sogi) is where petrol is stored,” Tuilaepa said.
Accusing the workers and the company responsible, P.P.S, of being negligent, the Prime Minister said there should never have been any work that involves fire near the fuel tanks.
He also assured that the government is already looking at a plan to ensure what happened on Monday is not repeated.
“To protect us from such negligence, there are plans to remove the fuel tanks and relocate them somewhere far away that is not near the big buildings (in town) and where people are crowded so that no one will be affected,” he said.
Tuilaepa said he is extremely grateful to God for his protection and the firefighters who battled the blaze. He is also grateful that it was diesel tank, which caught fire, not the petrol or the gas one.
“That is why it was easy to put out the fire because it was diesel and it doesn’t explode like petrol.
“It is why we shouldn’t sit around because the development of Samoa is continuing to grow and in another 40 years, there will be a lot more containers coming in.”
So what is the government’s plan?
Tuilaepa believes the planned international wharf at Vaiusu is the way to go.
“It’s not a plan that can be done next year,” said Tuilaepa.
“There needs to be discussions on financing it because if we don’t start talking about it nothing will be done.”
The Prime Minister recalled that the first year a survey was conducted on a wharf at Vaiusu was 1972. He said after the findings the report was put away and was only dug up again when a lot of issues in terms of space surfaced at the Matautu wharf.
Two days ago, claims that the fire could have blown up the wharf, destroying a large part of the Apia waterfront and placing hundreds of lives at risk, were rejected by Petroleum Products Supplies Ltd (P.P.S).
“The tanks were designed in a way that it cannot be destroyed by a fire,” said P.P.S. Managing Director, Fanene Samau Sefo.
“I believe the evacuation was called for precautionary measures but with the fire alone, there wouldn’t have been a time when it would spread outside of the tank. The tanks are surrounded by a cement wall so if there is any fuel leakage it is contained inside the bund wall.”
Fanene also downplayed the concerns about the pipeline that pumps fuel from the wharf to P.P.S’s main terminal at Sogi.
“This pipe is buried six feet deep underground,” he explained. “When the incident happened, the workers shut down all fuel valves and there isn’t any possibility that a problem like that will happen because any fire requires oxygen…no oxygen can get through down where the pipeline is locked.”
According to Fanene, the explosion happened when two P.P.S workers – including the man who died – did maintenance work.
“They started work from the first tank, second and it was the third and last tank where the incident happened,” he said.
A consultant responsible for the design and supervision of the tank team, Peseta Konelio Tone, said it is understandable that what was seen made people believe that the fire could have spread outside the tank.
He maintained, however, that the tanks are designed to a standard that is safe. Even if the lid had blown off, there are other measures to prevent a fire.
According to Peseta if the oil had spilled, there is a separator tank that can be used to extract the fuel so that the environment will not be damaged and people living close to wharf would not be affected.