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40 killed in Nigerian oil pipeline fire: police

world Updated: Dec 27, 2007 01:57 IST

About 40 people have died in a fire at an oil pipeline after it was vandalised by looters in the southern Nigerian state of Lagos, a police spokesman said on Wednesday.

Thirty-four bodies had been recovered from the site of Tuesday's explosion, said Lagos state police spokesman Frank Mba, but others had already been buried at the scene.

The tragedy occurred when a group of people vandalised a pipeline belonging to the state oil firm NNPC in a creek at Agbabo village on the outskirts of Lagos, Nigeria's economic metropolis on the south coast.

"It happened at three in the morning (0200 GMT) on the night of 24 to 25," a local boatman, Sunday Olaytan, told AFP.
Signs at the scene of the explosion, where sand had been dug away to lay bare a punctured pipeline, indicated the vandalisation attempt was a fairly well organised, large-scale affair.

Hundreds of jerrycans, tied together in bunches, littered the bushes and two lengths of wide bore flexible piping, used for filling the jerrycans, lay half melted.

The bodies of the victims had been hastily buried at the scene of the explosion, Olaytan said, pointing to three mass graves. A few charred body parts protuded from one of the graves.

The area still smelled of fuel and smoke was still rising from tree stumps. There was no immediate indication as to what had caused the blaze, which left burnt palmtrees, and elephant grass over an area about 60 by 100 metres (200 by 330 feet).

Charred clothing scattered through the bushes indicated some of those caught in the blaze might have managed to pull off their burning oil-soaked trousers as they fled.

The people of Abagbo, the nearest village on the tidal mud flats in one of the creeks on the outskirts of Lagos, were going about their daily chores and were reluctant to talk to the press.

Many made out they did not actually live in the village and were just passing through. At the next village down the road, Clement Nzu, a Beninese national born there said there had been a similar incident at the same pipeline five years ago.

He was critical of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for not protecting its pipelines better. "The village was here before the pipeline," he said, sipping a soft drink on a bench under a tree.

A few hundred metres from the scene of the fire a series of holes dug into the sand appeared to indicate earlier, unsuccessful attempts by vandals to locate the pipeline.

Oil explosions are frequent in Nigeria, Africa's biggest producer of crude, in part because of poor pipeline maintenance and in part because of the activities of thieves who vandalise pipelines to siphon off petrol and sell it on the black market.

Exactly one year ago more than 200 people died scooping fuel from a vandalised pipeline in another district of Lagos.

Hundreds of people have died scooping petrol from burst pipelines in recent months in the West African country.

According to NNPC statistics between 400 and 500 acts of vandalism occur every year on its pipelines.

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