By FOSTER OBI, PHILIP NWOSU and ADESINA OLANREWAJU
A huge explosion at the MRS terminal at the Tin Can Island Port yesterday shook the entire Apapa area and its environs to its foundation, sending residents to scamper for safety. Official reports said no life was lost but four persons were seriously injured in the explosion, which sent shockwaves to people’s psyche, buildings and installations in the environs.
Daily Sun learnt that the explosion, which occurred at about 11.40am was sparked off by a welding activity on board a self-propelled barge, which was alleged to be loaded with petroleum products. Eyewitnesses told Daily Sun that the fire burnt for close to thirty minutes before the explosion saying surprisingly the fire could not be contained by the company before the let off.
It was gathered that the impact of the explosion threw off persons conducting the welding on board the barge, and that the whole Tin Can port and its environs quake with the explosions. Unconfirmed reports said many commuters on the Apapa-Oshodi Road leading to the port fled from buses, saying many people were wounded in the stampede that followed the impact. Officials of MRS did not allow anybody into the jetty, the scene of the explosion but the Executive Director, Shipping Trading Operation, Mr. Marco Storarin confirmed that the fire erupted from a barge inside the jetty, adding that through the intervention of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) the number of casualties was stemmed.
He said there were no casualties except for damages to equipment and the building, adding, “we do not yet have reasons but the ship was coming on the water front; as at now there are no operations to ascertain the real cause of the fire outbreak. It is not true that there are death casualties,” he said. He, however, refused to comment on the cause of the fire. NEMA Information Officer, South-West, Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye, who confirmed the incident said the tanker on the barge exploded around 11.45am which had five persons injured but with no death recorded.
He said the reason for the explosion could not be ascertained, adding that the situation was under control through the help of the Federal Fire Service, Lagos State Fire Service and Ruhamaniya Oil and Gas Fire Services. A lot of people who spoke to Daily Sun believed that MRS officials were economical with the truth concerning the casualty rate. Kunle Salawu, an eyewitness said from the way the terminal was designed a lot of people must have died. Some people who were at the Kirikiri Lighter Terminal said at the time the explosion occurred, all the buildings around the area quaked which suggested that many buildings may collapse from the impact of the explosion in the near future.
Also, at the ports and Cargo Terminal, those around said the explosion shattered window and door glasses as well as affected some of the facilities. The office of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union located near the MRS Terminal was also affected. A lot of people wondered why it took the company so long to react to the fire incident saying the explosion could have been avoided if the response was faster. An eyewitness said: “I saw the fire and I saw the smoke. It took more than 30 minutes. Then there was this explosion and we thought we were dead.
Within this period there was no fire service intervention. We heard they were using fire extinguishers to stop the fire. “How could you use fire extinguisher to stop fire of such magnitude?” Unconfirmed report said the company recently sacked about 45 per cent of its experienced workforce who could have handled some of the sophisticated equipment and employed inexperienced persons to save funds. Musa Ilya, assistant general manager, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), said the company was yet to ascertain the reason for the fire outbreak, saying they were investigating the incident.