Three alive, seven missing after Nigeria oil vessel explosion

A vessel with a storage capacity of two million barrels of oil exploded last week, with 10 crew members on board.

Wreckage of the Trinity Spirit floating production, storage and offloading vessel is seen after an explosion and fire broke out at Shebah Exploration & Production Company Ltd offshore production site
The Trinity Spirit had a processing capacity of 22,000 barrels per day and a storage capacity of two million barrels [Tife Owolabi/Reuters]

Three crew members on board an oil vessel that exploded last week off the coast of Nigeria have been found alive, while seven were still missing, according to the ship’s operator.

Ikemefuna Okafor, the executive officer of Shebah Exploration & Production Company Ltd (SEPCOL), said late on Sunday the company would ensure the survivors receive the appropriate medical attention.

Okafor added that “one dead body was discovered in the vicinity”, but it was not immediately clear if it was of a crew member.

“The identity of the dead body is yet to be ascertained,” Okafor said. Efforts to locate the remaining crew members, “clean up and limit damage to the environment, and establish the cause of the explosion” were ongoing, he added.

22,000 barrels a day

The Trinity Spirit, a floating production, storage and offloading vessel, caught fire following an explosion on Wednesday off southern Nigeria’s oil-rich Delta state, raising fears of an environmental disaster. The blaze was extinguished a day later.

The vessel had a processing capacity of 22,000 barrels per day and a storage capacity of two million barrels, according to SEPCOL.

Idris Musa, of the country’s spill detection agency NOSDRA, told the AFP news agency on Sunday that “no spill incident” had taken place “other than emulsified oil in small quantity”.

A Reuters news agency witness saw the burned-out remains of the Trinity Spirit, which broke into two and partially submerged, but said there was no evidence of spilled crude.

Nevertheless, environmental activists have expressed concern about the potential impact.

“There will definitely be a spill,” said Mike Karikpo, of the local NGO Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

“This is a facility that handles over 20,000 barrels per day … the oil will reach the surrounding communities.”

Eric Omare, executive director of Niger Delta Good Governance and Environmental Initiative, said high tidal waves could have washed away the oil and that the full impact would be felt soon.

Vessel was ‘old, badly maintained’

Two sources and an environmental group told Reuters the oil vessel had been in precarious conditions.

A trading source who used to occasionally store oil on the Trinity Spirit described it as “old and badly maintained” and said they had stopped using it because of “too many technical issues”.

“Most, if not all of the big trading companies stopped using it several years ago,” the source said.

Nnimmo Bassey, from Health of Mother Foundation, said the vessel had been in operation for more than 30 years, outliving its lifespan of 20 years, and should have been decommissioned.

Accidents are frequent in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, Africa’s largest crude producer, although they usually occur on land.

The region continues to suffer the multiplier effect of decades of environmental degradation, which has eroded livelihoods and deprived residents of basic essentials such as access to clean drinking water.

The area’s mangroves and swamps have become uninhabitable for many species and the average human life expectancy is also 10 years lower in the Delta than elsewhere in Nigeria.

There have also been attacks on oil installations in the past, piercing pipelines to take crude oil and increasing kidnappings to obtain a ransom.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies