The Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC-Nigeria) has called for thorough investigation into the cause of the explosion that killed two fishermen among others in Okrika Local Government Area of Rivers State on August 1.

Reports of the incident according to community members who spoke with YEAC-Nigeria’s team had it that a vessel conveying imported premium motor spirit (PMS) at Okari jetty was discharging the product to the Nigerian National Petroleum Company’s Ltd (NNPCL) storage tanks at the Port Harcourt Refinery through the surface pipelines visible to anyone entering Okrika local government area.

It was then reported that the high pumping pressure from the vessel pulled out the valve on the pipe’s mouth due to improper tightening/connection by the dock workers leading to the spilling of thousands of litters of PMS into the environment lasting for many hours before they realized and stopped the pumping from the vessel.

It was gathered that before it was stopped, the PMS have spread everywhere around the area on the water and even up to NAFCON Creek near Onne in Eleme local government area that share common boundary with Okrika.

The Executive Director of YEAC-Nigeria, Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface who stated this in a statement of preliminary field investigation into the incident said news about the PMS in the environment quickly spread among the local people and the scooping of the product into containers started. Some scooped, sold and returned to scoop again while those who didn’t immediately find buyers stored the product at home and at nearby burial ground where no one steals whatever is kept there.

It is further reported that by the night of July 31st/August 1, PMS then caught fire from the lanterns of two fishermen who were going about their lawful fishing activities on the river, causing the explosion and killing both of them as the first set of casualties. While the actual total casualty figures are unknown, unverified reports has it that 16 persons including the fishermen and two others chocked by PMS under the pipeline also died.

The explosion, heat from it and the poisonous PMS, to tell you of the magnitude of the incident, also killed many fishes in the big river body that started floating and as poisonous as these fishes could be, some community people who could not resist the sizes of some of the fishes that died are said to have allegedly picked, cooked and eaten them.

The alleged picking and eating of the dead fishes is another episode of possible diseases and epidemic “explosion” waiting to happen in Okrika and its environs for those who eat the unsafe fishes if steps are not taken to address the health implications.

It would be recalled that similar explosion at the NNPC Jetty in Okrika allegedly caused by oil thieves in May 2014 also left over seven persons dead. The Chairman of Okrika Local Government Area at the time, Tamuno Williams confirmed the incident and said that “the fire broke out when pipeline vandals were siphoning petroleum products from the pipelines belonging to the NNPC at a jetty near Okrika”.

Speaking for the NNPC then, Mr. Ralph Ugwu, Executive Director, Services of the NNPC had said that “the blast did not damage refinery installations and had no impact on operations”.

It is against these backgrounds that Advocacy Centre calls for thorough investigation into the cause of the July 31 incident, explosion and deaths in Okrika and adequate compensation paid to the families of the affected fishermen who were going about their lawful livelihood activities but killed from the negligence of the dock workers, vessel owners and NNPCL spills leading to the explosion.

Executive Director, YEAC-Nigeria.
August 13, 2023.

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