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Thursday 7 April 2016 | Published in Regional

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SAMOA – Suggestions that the fire at one of the fuel tanks at Apia’s Matautu Wharf on Monday could have blown up the entire wharf area, destroying a large part of the Apia waterfront and placing hundreds of lives at risk, have been rejected by the fuel storage facility’s owner.

Petroleum Products Supplie s (PPS) managing director, Fanene Samau Sefo, told the Samoa Observer during a press conference yesterday that there was no threat of the sort whatsoever.

“The tanks were designed in a way that it cannot be destroyed by a fire,” said Fanene. “I believe the evacuation was called for precautionary measures but with the fire alone, there wouldn’t have been a time when it would spread outside of the tank.

“The tanks are surrounded by a cement wall so if there is any fuel leakage it is contained inside the wall.”

Fanene was speaking during a media conference organised by the Disaster Advisory Committee following Monday’s blaze, which killed a 23-year-old employee of PPS.

In the wake of the fire, a local businessman has called on the government to launch a full inquiry into what caused the blaze. He also called for PPS to be held accountable for placing people’s lives at risk.

“The government needs to be careful, it needs to wake up. The whole of Apia could have blown up and innocent people could have been killed,” he told the Samoa Observer.

The businessman added that with the fuel pipes running along Beach Road towards Sogi, that could have placed thousands of lives at risk.

“I think it is negligence,” he said. “And someone has to be accountable for it. Regardless of what they say, people’s lives were at risk. You cannot tell me that safety was secured with what we saw. It’s impossible.”

But Samau downplayed the concerns about the pipeline that pumps fuel from the wharf to PPS’s main terminal at Sogi.

“This pipe is buried six feet deep underground,” he explained. “When the incident happened, the workers shut down all fuel valves and there isn’t any possibility that a problem like that will happen because any fire requires oxygen. No oxygen can get through down where the pipeline is locked.”

According to Samau, the explosion happened around 10am when two PPS workers – including the man who died – did maintenance work.

“They started work from the first tank, second and it was the third and last tank where the incident happened,” he said.

“I cannot go into details about what might have caused the fire because there is an investigation into it.

“We are extremely saddened by the loss of an employee and we extend our condolences to his family and loved ones.”

But the managing director made it clear that the work was legal and there was a permit for it.

Earlier, the cairman of the Disaster Advisory Committee, Suluimalo Amataga Penaia, told media maintenance work that included welding at the tanks is suspected to have sparked the explosion.

- Samoa Observer/PNC