250 dead in Nigeria pipeline fire

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The Independent Online

A damaged petroleum pipeline gushing fuel has exploded in southern Nigeria. Speculative reports put the death toll as high as 250.

A damaged petroleum pipeline gushing fuel has exploded in southern Nigeria. Speculative reports put the death toll as high as 250.

Police cordoned off the scene of the explosion which occurred yesterday at the village of Adeje, near the port city of Warri in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

State petroleum workers were also rushed to the area to assess the damage, officials said.

The cause of the accident was unclear and a government statement signed by Information Minister Jerry Gana said "several lives" were lost and "a vital petroleum products pipeline" destroyed.

"The government sympathises with the families of those who lost their lives in the incident," the statement added.

It is suspected that the initial pipeline leak was caused by vandals who punctured the pipeline with sharp tools.

The incident occurred close to the town of Jesse where more than 700 people died in a similar disaster in late 1998.

Pipeline sabotage is common in poverty-wracked Nigeria, and vandals have triggered numerous explosions in the past.

At least 497 cases of vandalism were recorded last year compared to 57 cases in 1998, according to the state petroleum company. Each incident forced costly shutdowns and repairs.

Sabotage is sometimes carried out by militant activists trying to force the government and oil companies to give compensation to communities for land use and alleged pollution. In other cases, villagers collect the gushing fuel to make a crude mixture of oil and gasoline for cheap generators and other motors.

Monday's government statement said authorities had spent "enormous resources" to educate Nigerians about the need to protect oil pipelines to avoid "tragic accidents which have always resulted in loss of lives and property."

The government further called on all Nigerians to cooperate with the state petroleum company's efforts to "guarantee an uninterrupted supply of petroleum."

Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest oil exporter, accounting for about one-twelfth of the oil imported by the United States. Sales of crude oil account for more than 80 per cent of the government's revenue.

Disruptions caused by sabotage are especially painful to the government at a time when oil prices have skyrocketed from 1998 lows and could be making a more significant impact on the country's economy.

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