Oil spill fears mount after Nigeria vessel explodes
An oil vessel with a two million barrels storage capacity has exploded off the coast of southern Nigeria's Delta state, its operator said Thursday, prompting fears of an environmental disaster.
The Shebah Exploration & Production Company Ltd (SEPCOL) said in a statement that "a fire engulfed our offshore facility... following an explosion during the early hours of Wednesday."
It was unclear how much oil was stored at the time of the explosion at the FPSO Trinity Spirit -- a floating production, storage and offloading vessel.
Chief executive Ikemefuna Okafor said there were "no reported fatalities" but confirmed "there were 10 crewmen onboard the vessel prior to the incident."
An investigation was underway to determine the cause of the accident, he said, adding that the company was working to "contain the situation".
Images published by local media showed thick black smoke billowing from a sinking ship engulfed by flames.
Nigerian navy spokesman Suleman Dahun told AFP that it had "deployed her boats to the scene of the incident to render necessary assistance".
The country's regulatory agency for upstream operations, NUPRC, said the explosion had led to a "major fire" and that it had "commenced investigations into the incident".
"The commission will take necessary measures to ensure that all safety and environmental measures... to safeguard lives and the environment are put in place," spokesman Paul Osu said.
Oil spill fears
It was too early on Thursday to say if oil had started spilling into the waters.
Idris Musa, director of Nigeria's National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), told AFP they were also on site responding to the incident.
Environmental activists were, however, worried of the potential impact.
"There will definitely be a spill," said Mike Karikpo of the local NGO, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Environment.
"This is a facility that handles over 20,000 barrels per day... the oil will reach the surrounding communities."
The vessel was located at the Ukpokiti Terminal, along the coast of the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
Although Nigeria is Africa's largest crude producer, operating costs are high due to frequent accidents and widespread insecurity, although most accidents take place on land.
Militants have attacked oil installations in the past, piercing pipelines to take crude oil and increasing kidnappings to obtain a ransom.
Nigerian pirates are also active across the wider and resource-rich Gulf of Guinea region, disrupting shipping in a vast area stretching from Senegal to Angola.