At least 18 people, including a pregnant woman, have died in southern Nigeria when an illegal oil refinery exploded into flames, a security official and residents said.
The blaze took place early on Monday in Rivers State’s Emohua district when a homemade refinery ignited a nearby oil reservoir, leaving victims severely burned, according to a report by AFP news agency on Tuesday.
“The fire outbreak started at a very late hour … 18 victims were burnt beyond recognition while 25 injured persons were rescued,” said Olufemi Ayodele, spokesman for the local Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
“Most of the victims were youths … a pregnant woman and a young lady getting ready for her marriage ceremony next month were all casualties,” he said.
In another report, the Reuters news agency, citing a local Ibaa community leader, said as many as 37 people died in the blaze.
“Thirty-five people were caught in the fire. Two people who were lucky to escape also died this morning [Tuesday] in hospital,” Rufus Welekem, the head of security in the community, told Reuters.
Illegal refining is common in the oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria as impoverished locals tap pipelines to make fuel to sell for a profit. The practice, which can be as basic as boiling crude oil in drums to extract fuel, is often deadly.
Nigeria – an OPEC member and one of Africa’s largest petroleum producers – has for years tried to clamp down on illegal crude refineries, with little success, in part because powerfully connected politicians and security officials are involved, local environmental groups say.
Crude oil theft, pipeline vandalism and legal battles over oil spills are pushing oil majors operating in Nigeria to sell their onshore and shallow water assets to concentrate on deepwater operations.
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