Over thirty persons were on Sunday reportedly burnt to death as fire engulfed a section of the Calabar Free Trade Zone (CFTZ). Also, 30 others suffered various degrees of burns in the incident.
It was gathered that the tragic incident, which emanated from LINC OIL & GAS, started at about 1.20 am on Sunday.
It was alleged that a worker was trying to divert PMS from a vessel and opened one of the valves in a bid to siphon fuel but unfortunately, the gasket on the valve failed and the pressure threw him off.
A source added that at that point, the product started pouring into the gutter.
An eye witness who gave his name as Ikenga Uti said people started scooping fuel from the gutter with various containers.
“It was in the process of scooping that the fire started from outside and extended to the LINC oil and gas and to Nigeria ports Authority (NPA), where it entered a vessel also loaded with PMS.
“We brought out 8 bodies from LINC oil and gas and about six people who were scooping fuel outside the gate also died.
“The people scooping fuel said that the fire was sparked by somebody who was smoking cigarette close to one of the gutters that the product was flowing”, he said.
Another witness who pleaded anonymity said that incident was caused due to greed and pure sabotage.
The fire was due to illegal activities in one of the tank farms.
“For now I can tell you that the safety manager and some security personnel from the company are dead, this tragedy was caused because someone was greedy.
“The person who opened that valve caused this whole thing; they were trying to steal PMS; he didn’t know there will be leakage; the pressure was much that it even threw him away and the fire started when people started scooping the fuel from outside before it spread to NPA and LINC oil and gas where the product leaked from”, he added.
A fishing settlement on the waterfront nearby was not so lucky.
The settlement which also serves as a fish market was razed.
Several wooden canoes and engine boats were caught in the inferno.
It was gathered that three vessels in the adjoining Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) were also affected by the fire.
The fire also affected the tank farm where the problem started but it was put off by sophisticated fire fighting equipment in the premises.
A staff of one of the oil and gas company who pleaded anonymity said: “Almost 30 people have been confirmed dead.
“So many have severe injuries and have been rushed to the hospital. I saw someone whose entire legs were completely burnt.
“It was very horrible. There was fire everywhere. Nobody knew where they would run to. Many other companies in this vicinity and even inside the NPA have had one equipment or the other affected by the fire.
“The truth is that they were doing an illegal business there that is why there was no safety measure. In fact, there was no safety measure at all, that is why the situation got out of hand. If it was a normal operation, I believe it could have been contained easily. It is something they have been doing all the time, but today was bad luck for them.”
When contacted, Commissioner of Police, Mr. Hafiz Inuwa, however said that they could only confirm seven deaths and nine injured.
He said his men were on ground when the fire was raging and helped put it out as well as cordoned-off the area so that hoodlums would not take advantage of the situation to loot.
On his part, Commissioner for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Itaya Nyong, who was at the scene of the incident confirmed the fire was as a result of the activities of criminal elements who were siphoning petrol from the tank farm.
He said they were colluding with some security officials and staff of the tank farm to carry out the nefarious act and that investigation would be launched into the matter and culprits brought to book to serve as deterrent.
When DAILY POST visited the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH), six people have already been deposited at the mortuary, while 11 others with various degrees of burns were been attended to.