There is a lot to be learned from Monday’s events at the Matautu wharf now that the immediate danger has passed and the fire and smoke have disappeared.
The very visible black tank however is a reminder of the alarming fire in the heart of Apia, the loss of life of a maintenance worker and the subsequent hospitalization of a number of firemen.
It could have been so much worse.
And while we are grateful the fire was eventually contained and we have heard measured responses from the C.E.O. and senior management of the Petroleum Products Supplies (P.P.S.), now is definitely time to review this organization.
Already the Prime Minister has fired the first salvo by questioning the qualifications and the lack of training by staff.
A statement by the P.P.S. Managing Director, Fanene Samau Etuale Sefo, that the work at the tanks was legal and there was a permit for it does not explain the chain of events on Monday.
In fact it raises even more questions.
Papalii Niko Lee Hang, the Minister of Works, Infrastructure and Transport.
who is responsible for the Matautu wharf, is struggling to make logical sense of what happened.
His comments reflect the astonishment of many of the country’s population.
“I mean, at the petrol station you can’t use your cell phone and you can’t smoke but these things are minor.
“But they weld the tank with fuel in it … it’s just ridiculous and doing it on top of a fuel tank it’s a time bomb, it can explode anytime,” he said.
As a businessman whose family own and operate a petrol station, the Minister is doubly aware of the importance of safety procedures.
He has also taken a shot at the Samoa Ports Authority inferring that the security at the gate of the facility was negligent.
Meanwhile the Fire and Emergency Services Association (F.E.S.A.) staff have already pointed to a lack of equipment for such a huge emergency.
A senior firefighter, Kereta Samia with some 10 years experience has said training and equipment are badly needed by their organisation.
“With the Monday incident, I wished that we had had a ladder truck here in Samoa, so that there would be no problem trying to put the foam into the fuel tank because those ladders can go 30 meters high which is higher than the fuel tanks.”
And while he is no doubt correct, the fact is that the accident should never have occurred at all.
Which brings us back to some pertinent questions for, and about P.P.S.
Who of senior management has specific training, qualifications and experience in their dangerous products?
Have these people been appointed simply from a management rather than a technical perspective?
How many of their staff have had specific and ongoing training in the handling of fuel?
Do new staff undergo an orientation when they join the company?
Do general maintenance workers understand the properties of the products they are working with?
Is P.P.S. in a partnership with an oil company to acquire the knowledge they need in the handling of fuel?
Are management all their workers aware of occupational health and safety regulations in their industry?
How robust are these regulations and how often are they reviewed?
When were the regulations last updated, tested and audited?
Does P.P.S. get audited by an outside organisation to ensure their safety procedures are viable?
How often does that happen?
Thirty years ago there was a site full of fuel tanks in downtown Auckland known as the Tank Farm.
Now replaced by trendy restaurants and bars, fire fighters predicted that if it ever went up, the C.B.D, and as far out as Onehunga would be obliterated.
The point is, the work on the tanks may have authorise with a permit and been legal but a piece of paper and the law was not enough to ensure the safety of one man’s life.