Petroleum Advisor to the Pacific Community, Alan Bartmanovich, believes the fuel tank fire at the Matautu wharf on Monday highlighted a broader issue of poor industry standards in the Pacific.
"There are some countries that have severe lacks of standards and infrastructure in the petroleum industry, other are more lucky, so it's a bit of a mixed bag at the moment," he told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat programme.
"There is a great identified need for training and for some countries to really up their standard."
He said the incident in Apia came as a surprise, due to Samoa's good record on safety standards.
"I think all accidents are avoidable, in the case of Samoa I would be very reluctant to make that conclusion. Samoa was one of the countries that was probably better equipped and better prepared, one of our shining examples of how to do things in a correct way. I would have thought that Samoa was relatively low [risk] but there are other countries that are seriously and still at risk, we are working towards providing training and also engaging international agencies that do provide training."
The situation in Port Vila, however, was a particular concern.
A squatter settlement had developed next to the oil terminal there over the past 20 years, and government attempts to move them on have failed.
"It has been a bit of a disaster scenario, the government of Vanuatu has been struggling with that problem for some time," Mr. Bartmanovich said. "I do fear for Vanuatu in particular, but there is a matter of how do we deal with this, and the economics of how do we move these people away if necessary." Mr. Bartmanovich’s comments come as investigators are still trying to establish the cause of huge oil tank explosion, which killed one worker and injured another.
On Thursday, Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi blamed negligence for what happened.
“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. In the meantime, Petroleum Products Supplies Ltd (P.P.S) has maintained that the risk was minimal.
“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. 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.”