Claims that the fire at one of the fuel tanks at the Matautu Wharf on Monday could have blown up the wharf, destroying a large part of the Apia waterfront and placing hundreds of lives at risk, have been rejected by Petroleum Products Supplies Ltd (P.P.S).
P.P.S. Managing Director, Fanene Samau Sefo, told the Samoa Observer during a press conference yesterday that there was no threat of the sort whatsoever.
“The tanks were designed in a way that it cannot be destroyed by a fire,” said Fanene. “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 was speaking during a media conference yesterday organised by the Disaster Advisory Committee following Monday’s blaze, which killed a 23-year-old employee of P.P.S.
In the wake of the fire, a businessman has called on the government to launch a full inquiry into what caused the blaze. He also called for P.P.S to be held accountable for placing people’s lives at risk.
“The government needs to be careful, it needs to wake up. The whole of Apia could have blown up and innocent people could have been killed.”
The businessman added that with the fuel pipes running along Beach Road towards Sogi, that could have placed thousands of lives at risk.
“I think it is negligence,” he said. “And someone has to be accountable for it. Regardless of what they say, people’s lives were at risk. You cannot tell me that safety was secured with what we saw today. It’s impossible.”
But Samau 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 Samau, the explosion happened around 10am 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.
“I cannot go into details about what might have caused the fire because there is an investigation into it.
“We are extremely saddened by the loss of a employee and we extend our condolences to his family and loved ones.”
But the Managing Director made it clear that the work was legal and there was a permit for it.
Disaster Advisory Committee Chairman, Suluimalo Amataga Penaia, said the site has been sealed off while an investigation is underway.
He added there are experts from Australia who arrived yesterday afternoon who will be assisting in the investigation.
The consultant that was 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.
“In the case where it continues to burn (fuel) like yesterday (Monday) then foam is used outside and inside the tank. It went on for three hours before it was put out and other safety measures were taken.
“Secondly, there is a bund wall that can contain the full amount of the whole tank if it leaks out.”
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.
Asked about the impact of pollution and emission caused by the fume from the fuel, Peseta said an investigation is underway. He added that there was no oil spill since the oil was contained in the tank.
Suluimalo, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment added that there is an assessment being carried out to calculate how much emission was released by using how much diesel was burnt.
He said not all of the diesel inside the tank was burnt as there was some portion left when the foam was used to suffocate the oxygen.
The Chairman also assured they will look into how to respond to incidences where if there is a natural disaster like tsunami and earthquakes.
As for P.P.S. being liable of any environment damage, Suluimalo said “we need to look at it, where it applies and how its determined.”
On Monday night, P.P.S assured that “at no time was there any risk to the general public from the tanks or the fuel pipeline. “
“As a safety precaution, the main fuel terminal at Sogi was shut down immediately. Once the fire was contained and the tank site was deemed safe, the fuel terminal was reopened and normal operations resumed,” the company said in a statement.
“The main focus of the Emergency response team was to contain the fire and prevent it from spreading to the other two adjacent tanks.
“Upon learning of the incident, Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, lead the coordination of the Disaster Advisory Committee at F.E.S.A headquarters and personally requested assistance from the Australian, New Zealand and the United States Governments.
“All have assured the Government of their support and are now looking at how they can mobilise technical assistance, capacity-building support for emergency services and work together with the government and private sector to ensure more mitigation efforts are made to avoid a repeat of such an incident.
“In terms of ongoing fuel supplies, P.P.S has confirmed that they have enough stock for diesel fuel for the next 10 days, with the next tanker due on April 9th. Supplies of petrol and jet fuel were not affected by the fire.”