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Many petrol tanker fires ravage lives, fortunes

Fire outbreaks as a result of petrol tanker explosions or spilling of petrol from accidented tankers have become frequent in many parts of the country. More than 15 of such incidents have occurred this year, inflicting heavy human and financial losses.

A recent tanker fire incident that jolted the nation was on October 16, 2019 in Onitsha, Anambra State, where a tanker laden with petrol fell in front of the Toronto Hospital  near Upper Iweka, spilling its content into the Ochanja Market, more than 500 metres away.

The explosion killed five people, razed over 40 buildings and 500 shops, and destroyed other property worth billions of naira.

The fire, which began at about 12.30pm and lasted till 7.40pm, was finally put out through individual efforts and help from fire fighters from Asaba, Delta State.

Barely 48 hours after the Upper Iweka incident, another tanker exploded along the Enugu/Onitsha Expressway near Omagba, Anambra State.

The fuel-laden tanker according to eyewitnesses fell at Bessoy Filling Station Bus Stop, and spilled its content. Petrol flowed through an underground tunnel into Heritage Street, Omagba.

Property including earthmoving machines, two residential buildings and several business outlets were gutted by the fire. About 15 vehicles were burnt, but no loss of life was recorded.

Tanker explosions are not new in Anambra State as there’s hardly any year that incidences are not recorded.

In 2015, a petrol tanker fire occurred at Upper Iweka on May 31, killing about 69 persons.

On January 4, 2016, a tanker explosion rocked Nnewi barely a week after a gas plant explosion at Chikason plant killed over 100 persons.

The tanker exploded at Organizer Filling Station Amuko in Nnewi and destroyed nearby buildings.

On February 16, 2017, there was a fire outbreak at the Mobil Petrol Station at DMGS Roundabout in Onitsha after a petrol tanker loaded with fuel exploded. Some surrounding buildings were badly damaged and four vehicles burnt.

Also, on June 2, 2018, a petrol-laden tanker had brake failure at Agu Awka Junction in Awka, causing it to somersault and erupt in flames, razing three other vehicles in the process.

A few days afterwards, another petrol tanker went up in flames at a filling station along the Nnewi-Okigwe Expressway in Nnewi. Although no life was lost in the incident, workers and customers at the filling station were said to have escaped by the whiskers.

June 27, 2018 remains one of the saddest days in Lagos State after a fuel-laden tanker exploded on the popular Otedola Bridge along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, killing more than 10 people and burning over 50 vehicles.

It was a major tanker fire incident which left many people distraught, especially owners of vehicles burnt beyond repair.

More than one year after, residents of Lagos are still worried over the persistent incidents of tanker fire as fuel laden trucks now fall frequently in many parts of the state.

In Lagos, no fewer than three such incidents have been recorded in the last one month. Mostly affected was the ever-busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway where two different incidents were recorded in less than one month.

Previously, on July 2, there was panic along the busy Ketu-Alapere inward toll gate in Lagos when a tanker loaded with 33,000 litres of fuel developed fault and in the process spilled its content.

The incident occurred at about 8.30am, worsening the traffic situation on the expressway. The Lagos State Fire Service and other emergency response workers were hurriedly mobilized to the scene to avoid explosion in the process. In recent times, tanker fire incidents have been on the increase.

On Saturday, November 9, an inferno was averted at the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport (MMA) Lagos when a tanker loaded with 33,000 litres of petrol fell and spilled its content at about 09.45am within the airport environment after the driver lost control while descending the slope on the link bridge between Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja and the Lagos Airport.

The tanker would have ran into the headquarters of Arik Air or the Forte Oil Filling Station close to the old domestic airport also known as the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) but he reportedly manoeuvred the truck to hit the road median.

However, no explosion was recorded as emergency services were swiftly activated with the combined teams from Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) Aerodrome Rescue and Fire-Fighting Services and the Lagos State Fire Service deployed to the scene.

And just last Wednesday, another fire was averted at the Otedola Bridge when a tanker laden with 44,000 litres of Aviation fuel (Jet A1) was involved in a lone accident with the tanker spilling its content.

It was learnt that the cargo containing the fuel detached from the truck head, fell on its side before it started spilling its content. However, no injuries or deaths were recorded.

According to the Lagos Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Hyginus Omeje, the recurring tanker incidents call for concern.

He said the Corps was tackling it by engaging stakeholders, especially tanker owners. Omeje noted that most of the trucks are over-aged and need outright replacement, adding that overloading is another factor with the truck carrying between 60,000 and 90,000 litres with a very weak engine that cannot draw that weight.

He also said most tanker drivers disobey laid down safety standards and fail to install speed limit devices in their vehicles.

“These are some of the factors we have been addressing. We are engaging the stakeholders, especially members of the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) for fleet renewal,” he said.

Omeje said it is high time the nation explored other modes of transporting petroleum products because the roads are “overburdened.”

From 2016 to 2019, records show several incidences of petrol tanker explosion in different parts of Rivers State.

In August 2018, a tanker conveying petroleum products suspected to be gasoline overturned and exploded around Eliozu Bridge in Obio-Akpor LGA.

The explosion destroyed property worth millions of naira.

Again, on December 14, 2018, a petrol tanker fell and went up in flames along Eleme/Onne axis of the East West road.

The driver of the tanker laden with an unspecified quantity of fuel was said to have lost control after running into a big pothole.

Another fire incident was recorded at Rumuekehi in Eneka axis of Port Harcourt in early 2019. The fire which involved five petrol tankers was put out by fire fighters mobilized from Agip and Shell.

At about the same time, there was a fire incident at Abuloma Jetty when a barge laden with fuel exploded, as well as in Rumuekini where five petrol trucks were gutted by fire.

Three persons lost their lives in September 2019 at Igwurita in Ikwerre Local Government Area of Rivers State when a tanker laden with fuel fell on top of a 14-seater bus.  Three persons, a woman and two men, lost their lives in the incident.

In the morning of November 18, 2019, tragedy struck at Felele community along the Lokoja-Abuja highway when a fuel-laden tanker lost control due to break failure and rammed into vehicles. In the ensuing inferno, eight persons lost their lives while seven others sustained injuries.

A witness, Moses Johnson, who told our correspondent that the incident occurred around 8.45am, said the tanker was coming from Lagos.

Our correspondent gathered that personnel of the Federal Fire Service drafted to Lokoja for the Kogi governorship election made concerted efforts to put out the fire.

Men of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) were also on ground to evacuate corpses and other victims of the accident.

It would be recalled that on November 12, 2016, a fuel-laden tanker had an accident along the Abuja-Lokoja highway and burst into flames, burning many people beyond recognition.

The busy highway, which is noted for heavy traffic caused by trucks, connects the North with the southern part of the country, and over the years a lot of tanker fire accidents have been recorded.

Mr. Oyiza Haruna, who lost a vehicle in an inferno, said he parked by the roadside near his shop when a tanker conveying fuel manoeuvring the bad road crashed into an 18-seater bus and a tricycle.

“This road has many tankers and trailers coming and going to Lagos. It is a busy road. I rushed when I heard the explosion, but my car, along with about 10 others, was already in flames. It was a horrible sight as the helpless victims burned. The intensity of the heat prevented people from helping until the fire service arrived, but the passengers were all burnt beyond recognition,” he narrated.

At a roadside mechanic’s workshop, there were about five burnt vehicles which Samuel Adeniyi, the owner of the shop, said were from the accident scene.

“The problem here is that there is no drainage. And there is a place on the road that becomes a pothole whenever it rains. When articulated vehicles want to dodge the many potholes on the road, accidents happen,” he said.

Also expressing concern over the ugly development, a transport union official, Mohammed Adamu, said men of the FRSC need to do more to check the recklessness of tanker and articulated vehicle drivers that ply the road. He said the FRSC should always station its men at strategic locations on the Abuja-Lokoja highway to tackle the challenge.

As at last week Saturday, no fewer than 317 people have lost their lives through road crashes in Ogun State, most of which were said to have been caused by tankers and articulated vehicles, Daily Trust on Sunday gathered.

The Operations Controller, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Abeokuta Field Office, Mrs. Muinat Bello-Zagi, said petrol tanker crashes have become “increasingly alarming” in the state, resulting to economic and human losses.

Mrs. Bello-Zagi expressed concern that in spite of the DPR’s efforts to check tanker accidents, 15 cases were recorded in the first quarter in the year.

While the number of tanker crashes have increased, last Friday’s incident has generated a lot of comments.

Two people were confirmed dead with 17 vehicles burnt in an explosion when a tanker carrying petrol crashed at the Sango Toll Gate in Otta. The victims were reportedly burnt beyond recognition while six others were injured.

The State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Clement Oladele, in a statement on Friday said the crash was due to a mechanical fault in fuel truck which fell and spilled its content.

According to him, the spilled content spread from the ShopRite Mall up to the FRSC Command Office at the old Toll Gate, destroying vehicles and other property.

Oladele advised motorists, especially tanker drivers transporting flammable products to adhere strictly to the 1957 United Nations Agreement Concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Roads (ADR) which among others requires trucks conveying dangerous goods including petroleum products to be installed with tanker’s seal valve which prevents liquefied content from spilling in the event of a road crash.

The incident at Otta was preceded by another fatal crash involving a truck and three vehicles along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway where 13 persons including two children died while 10 others sustained injures.

Following the fuel tanker explosion that claimed two lives, Governor Dapo Abiodun issued a “No Parking” directive to officials of the FRSC on the road. The governor in a statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Kunle Somorin, said the directive became imperative to forestall future accidents around the area.

Abiodun said he had observed that officials of the State Command of the FRSC frequently had cars parked along the road, especially during their routine stop-and-search operations, arguing that vehicles the FRSC usually park by the roadside contribute to gridlocks and pose danger to motorists.

According to the governor, the Ogun State Public Works Agency (OGPWA) is to commence work along the axis in order to ease the flow of traffic.

The statement noted that officers of the Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Corps (TRACE) are already in the area controlling traffic and to possibly move roadside traders from the right of way.

The state House of Assembly has also asked the state government to upgrade the existing divisional/zonal fire stations and create additional stations in the wake of fire incidents in the state.

The legislature told the government to focus fire stations especially at cosmopolitan and industrial areas with the aim of providing them modern fire fighting engines, water tankers and other equipment.

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