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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Firm blamed for Nigeria oil blast
Scene of the blast
There is anger and recrimination over the devastating explosion
Angry villagers have hit out at Nigeria's state oil company after an explosion on a vandalised pipeline killed 105 people.

A village chief, Charles Onoha, said the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) failed to repair the ruptured line, which exploded on Thursday in the worst accident of its kind in nearly three years.

"We begged NNPC to stop the spillage, but they did nothing," Onoha told AP. "They should be held responsible for this disaster."

But the company says it only became aware of the leakage after the explosion, though it is thought the pipe was deliberately ruptured by looters more than two weeks before the blast.

People were reportedly siphoning oil when the explosion was ignited by a spark from a passing motorcycle in the village of Amaokwe Oghughe, about 50 km (35 miles) north of the Abia State capital, Umuahia.


Emergency crews have been treating dozens for severe burns and the death toll was likely to rise significantly, said officials from Nigeria's Red Cross.

News of the disaster only broke when the injured began arriving in Umuahia at the end of the week - so rescue crews did not arrive until three days after the event, says the BBC's Dan Isaacs in Nigeria.

Our correspondent says the NNPC - which is responsible for maintaining the line - will face tough questions about why the leak was not repaired before it led to the tragedy.

Ndu Ughamadu, a state spokesman for the oil company, told AP that officials first became aware of the leakage after the explosion, but said company policy was to continue pumping fuel during "minor leakages".

"We have more than 5,000 kilometres (3,200 miles) of pipeline to monitor. At the same time we have a serious fuel scarcity in this country," Mr Ughamadu said.

'Families wiped out'

The local authorities and the police will also have to explain why they did not stop people coming to the spot to collect fuel, our correspondent says.

The government thought it had ended fuel queues

In the absence of repairs, locals had been collecting the petrol in whatever containers they could find, with the police doing little to stop them.

"Whole families were wiped out," said the head of Nigeria's Red Cross, Emmanuel Ijewere.

"We fear many more will die as there are many people with first-degree burns in local hospitals and private homes."

The pipe was carrying fuel from a state-owned refinery in the oil city of Port Harcourt to the city of Enugu, 230 kilometres (140 miles) to the north.


Pipeline looting, known as "bunkering" or "scooping", is common in Nigeria despite the risk of fire or prosecution with security forces known to shoot looters on sight.

Pipelines carrying valuable fuel products and running through desperately poor villages provide an immense temptation to the local population.

Over the past few years hundreds of people have died whilst collecting fuel in this way.

More than 1,000 people died in a single incident in 1998, when a pipeline exploded in the south-eastern state of Delta.

Although Nigeria ranks as one of the world's leading oil exporters, smuggling of fuel for export has created widespread petrol shortages.

The pump price of petrol was raised by nearly 54% on Friday.

Petrol prices are an especially sensitive issue in Nigeria, because there is growing resentment that oil revenues have done little to help overcome the country's poverty.

Have you got any experiences of Nigerian oil spills and explosions? What should be done to prevent another disaster?

Use the form to send us your comments, some of which will be published below.

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Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published.

Greed on the part of some Nigerians led them to their untimely death.How on earth do you go to scoop petrol that is highly explosive from the point of a ruptured pipe as claimed by the oil corporation,NNPC. Having said this, the NNPC itself should be culpable because this incidence further shows that someone somewhere in the organisation is not doing his job by not knowing on time that the pipe was ruptured and yet went ahead to pump petrol, thus killing some greedy people.
Akinlolu Oluwamuyiwa, Nigeria

If this disaster won't prevent another disaster, nothing will! Poverty or no poverty there can be no justification for scooping oil from a leaking pipe. It amounts to suicide.
Karori Mbugua, South Africa

The companies running the pipelines should monitor them better. With any leak, there's going to be a deviance from normal operating pressure. When this happens, they should shut it down until the problem is fixed. What if the line was running by an apartment building and ruptured, immediately igniting, let alone standing for 2 weeks? These companies are making the money to buy adequate monitoring equipment, and should be regualted more heavily internationally and by the Nigerian government.
Z Telford, US

The authorities in Nigeria should make sure that all fuel pipelines are deep underground to avoid such disasters in future.
omuringani, zimbabwe

It is amazing that the Nigerian government can allow such a tragedy happen again. Were no lessons learned from the 1998 incident? What measures were implemented to prevent that awful event from reoccuring? The blame for this tragedy lies squarely on the shoulders of the government. It is the governments' responsibility to put in place the right policies to prevent such tragedies from happening. The leaders are paid to worry about the peoples safety. President Obasanjo, the buck stops at your table! The blood of the dead is on your hands.
Ugo Uzu, Norway

The NNPC needs to stop refusing to accept responsibility for something so serious. This is not the first time this is happening, and it is more than likely that the same event will occur. It within the interest of the general public that health and safety is put before anything else where oil is concerned! It is ridiculous that oil spillage should occur for so long, and the NNPC claimed not to know anything about it. SHAME!
Ada Ofodum, Nigeria

Nigerians as a people have too many vices, one of which is to take things for granted in the name of being smart. Disasters of this type has occured on more than one occassion in Nigeria in the last 3 years with heavy loss of lives , yet people are not detered. And this is a living proof that there is always a terrible price for ignorance and wickedness.
Eddy Igbokwe, Italy

The government and people of nigeria lack the basic essence of living - love. We should all be watchful and consider the plight of others. Where else can there be a petroleum spillage (of course highly inflammable) and the response from the people in charge of the conpany involved call it "minor"???? Does it mean that the lives of over a hundred people is also minor????
uchenna oguike, nigeria

foreign companies should leave nigeria so that the petroleum industries could be managed by nigeria,herself.

Local Nigerians should learn from the past mistakes to avoid future outpouring of blood. The idea of bunkering with State oil in the pipelines as way of amassing should cease into people's minds. On the other hand the state should use part of the oil revenue to provide a good livelihood to people
Mutinye Sam Aggrey, Uganda

Foreign companies and nations must be ashamed for encouraging such injustice for the sake of satifying their own hunger/thirst for oil. A country with the wealth and riches must have enough for itself, before selling on surpluses to the have-nots. That's how it works with commodities from foreign countries, why does it not apply to Africa and the developing world?
Obiageli Okaforiogi, Nigeria

Unfortunately, i doubt that this disaster will change people's attitude towards safety and potentially dangerous situations. The level of occurrence of accidents and disasters within the country as a result of the negligence of individual and corporate bodies is alarming. People need to start being responsible instead of blaming others.
Femi Anibaba, Lagos, Nigeria

Fuel piplines of this type should be fitted with reliable leak detection systems which measure pressure and account for volume losses. Regular maintenance and inspection would also avert a disaster. More also should be done to raise awareness of the dangers of highly flammable liquids. Here in the UK we are governed very tightly by the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] and incidents of this type are very few and far between
Jon Tonks, England

The BBC's Dan Isaacs
"This was a disaster that should never have been allowed to happen"

Eyewitness: A river of ashes
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Country profile: Nigeria
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