A fresh tragedy hit Rivers State yesterday, barely a week after the tanker explosion claimed close to 200 lives.
The latest incident is the explosion of a vessel leaving 30 passengers dead.
Three persons were injured and three other vessels were badly burnt.
The tragic scene was the Abuloma Jetty, Port Harcourt.
The ill-fated vessel, according to a source, belonged to a private company contracted to supply food and sundry items to off-shore employees of an oil company.
It was found to be leaking and a group of welders was engaged to seal the leaking points.
It was gathered that the welders were on the job when the explosion occurred.
An eye witness said: “One of the welders was blown off by the explosion. He landed in the fire and died on the spot.”
In the ensuing confusion, three of those in the vessel jumped into the river, despite their injuries, in a bid to swim to safety. They were rescued by sympathisers and rushed to the hospital, although two of them were said to be in critical conditions.
There are fears that no other persons escaped.
Most of the dead, a source said, were girls whose mission in the vessel was not immediately known.
The owner of the vessel also could not be ascertained at press time.
The Rivers State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Dr. Kayode Olagunju, said of the accident: “An oil vessel, at about 9.45 hours caught fire and exploded at the Abuloma Waterfront in Port Harcourt. The fire was still restricted to water area. FRSC, NEMA, Police, Fire Service and others were the rescue agencies on the ground. Casualty figures not yet known.”
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, Deputy Superintendent Ben Ugwuegbulam, did not respond to telephone calls.
Three other vessels anchored near the burning vessel and other facilities were badly burnt by the raging fire, which could not immediately be confronted in view of the intensity of the heat.
As the fire raged, men of the Joint Task Force (JTF), code-named Operation Pulo Shield, set ablaze five tankers used by illegal bunkerers for transporting petroleum products. Spokesman for the JTF’s Sector 2, Captain Sunny Samuel confirmed the burning.