Operators at Lagos sea ports want the relocation of tank farms from their areas to avert possible fire disasters but owners of the farms insist there is nothing to worry about
| By Pita Ochai | Feb. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
CONTROVERSY has continued to dog the location of tank farms around the sea ports in Lagos, following the explosion at the MRS jetty, Tin Can Island, Lagos, on January 9. Some operators using the facilities within the location of the tank farms claim that they now work in fear. They fear that Tin Can Island, Apapa, and Ajegunle communities might be wiped out by fire incidents at the tank farms. The tank farms, which stretch from Ibafo to Coconut, and Ibafo areas of Apapa, houses more than 20 petroleum storage facilities.
For a long time, maritime stakeholders have called for the relocation of these tank farms, but the federal government has refused to yield to the request. Two years ago, the senate committee on maritime, led by Zaynab Kure, similarly expressed shock at the closeness of the tank farms to the ports and residential areas during one of their oversight visits. The committee members suggested the relocation of the tank farms to loop in waterside of Ogun State. “As it stands today, tank farms deserve to be relocated to safeguard the life of those who do business and those who live around the area. In the event of an accident, the effect would be too disastrous for the nation,” Kure said.
The position of the senate is shared by Olayiwa Shittu, president, Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents, ANLCA, who has also demanded that the Nigerian government should relocate the tank farms at the Lagos ports to ensure safety of lives and properties.
But the calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Last year, the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, threatened to shutdown six major tank farms at the Ibru Jetty, Apapa, Lagos. The authority claimed that the safety level at the tank farms did not meet international safety procedures and regulations, with fear of high risk of explosion or fire outbreak in the facilities. The Ibru Jetty is home to dozens of tank farms where most of the premium motor spirit imported into the country is distributed. According to the NPA, in the event of a fire outbreak at one of the tank farms there could be a major disaster as the firefighting equipment at the jetty was inadequate, to contain the high temperature and pressure of an outbreak.
But Krona Uti, team leader, Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, has dismissed the NPA. Uti said that on several occasions, he witnessed responses from the fire fighters of the different tank farms using state-of-art equipment. According to him, citing the tank farms at the ports does not pose any threat to the environment. He explained that it was the responsibility of the DPR to shut down any tank farm that did not meet the minimum safety standards. He insisted that the farms met the International Safety Guide for Oil Tankers and Terminals. “I am impressed by the level of responses I saw at the tank farms. Our men reside at the tank farms and if we discover any deficiency in the petroleum products brought by the operators, we will not allow them to discharge,” Uti said.
Ifeanyi Ubah, managing director, Capital Oil and Gas Limited, whose jetty has been shut down due to an alleged involvement of his company in the fuel subsidy saga, claimed that the NPA, had never inspected their stations in the past 10 years to know the level of preparedness of the farms in terms of emergency. He said that each tank farm is fire proofed, which has made it nearly impossible to have a fire outbreak.
The large presence of hawkers also poses a great danger to the tank farms. On each visit to the Ibafon axis of Apapa, Lagos, the premises were usually filled with a large number of people who claimed to be agents. Besides, vehicles especially tankers, were parked along the roads, while traders and hawkers operated freely at the premises of the tank farms, thereby becoming security risk. In October 2012, the Lagos State government swooped on hawkers and traders around the tank farm facilities only for them to return a few weeks later. On several occasions, the state government had issued notices to operators around the tank farms and warned them against the security risk of having unarticulated vehicles around the area. Reports said that the state government had, on several occasions, discussed with the relevant stakeholders at the tank farms and the ports on the need to decongest the area. But nothing seems to have been done in that direction as the areas remained congested with people milling around the facilities aimlessly.
According to Sunday Okpithe, operations manager, Fist Deepwater petroleum tank farm, there is the need for tank farm operators to be extra conscious and uphold safety measures because of the volatile environment in which they operate. Emmanuel Akide, national deputy president, Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, said the tank farms were disasters in waiting, and that the January 2013 explosion in the MRS oil jetty was an eye opener for all. “Government should, as a matter of urgency, relocate the tank farms from the ports so that we can have peace and security,” Akide said.