By Enyichukwu Enemanna
At least 12 persons have been feared dead in an explosion at an illegal artisanal crude oil refinery site located in Obiafor 1 and 2, Obrikom area of Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area (ONELGA) in the oil-rich Rivers State, South South Nigeria.
This is the latest in the long list of casualties associated with illegal refinery activities which the locals call “kpo fire”.
In October, a fire outbreak at an illegal oil refining site in Ibaa Community, Emohua Local Government Area of Rivers state killed at least 35 persons with several others sustaining life-threatening injuries.
The latest incident was confirmed on Tuesday by an environmental activist who has been campaigning against artisanal refineries, environmental pollution, and proposing alternative livelihood opportunities for artisanal crude oil refiners in the Niger Delta.
Fyneface Dumnamene Fyneface, who is the Executive Director of the Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre (YEAC-Nigeria) said he received report of the incident from its Network on Organized Crime in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea (NOCINAG).
Fyneface said the actual number of those who died in the explosion is not clear, as some community members are reporting that the casualties are 20 while others say it is over 50, with many of them sustaining varying degrees of injuries.
Fyneface reiterated his call on youths in Rivers and across the Niger Delta to stop acts of pipeline vandalism, artisanal crude oil refineries and associated environmental pollution.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has said its Air Component of Operation Delta Safe, on December 23, destroyed six illegal oil refining sites in Opu Arugbana, Degema Local Government Area of Rivers.
In a statement by the Director, Public Relations and Information of NAF, Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet, the air strikes were in continuation of efforts to rid the Niger Delta region of activities of oil thieves and oil pipeline vandals.
He said the illegal sites were sighted clustered within a radius of about 80metres at a location about six nautical miles south of Opu Arugbana.