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Environmental activists demand answers after Engen blast


“Engen must be held accountable for the pollution and the ill health and the endangerment of the lives and property of our people.”

A massive explosion took place at the Engen Oil Refinery in Tara Road, South of Durban on Friday morning at around 7am. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

DURBAN – Durban South Basin environmental activists and residents have demanded answers from Engen regarding the cause of the massive explosion that rocked the area on Friday.

Engen said yesterday that the incident was still under investigation.

South Durban Community Environmental Alliance co-ordinator Desmond D’Sa said Engen had displayed “poor neighbourly conduct” by not addressing the community regarding the incident, especially those whose health had been affected.

He said the community was mobilising to take mass action against Engen by marching to its gates on Wednesday. He said community leaders briefly met Engen management and were awaiting an answer regarding when the refinery would hold a meeting with the public.

Residents had to be evacuated from a block of flats in Austerville after an upper level flat caught fire, allegedly after a projectile from the explosion landed on the roof. Seven refinery workers had to be treated for smoke inhalation after the blast, which rocked the suburb and could be heard as far away as Westville on Friday morning.

“We warned of this. We a want a criminal investigation and managers of Engen, the mayor and DEFF (Department of Environmental Affairs Forestry and Fisheries) must be held responsible for allowing it to continue operating. Engen must go,” D’Sa said.

“Engen must be held accountable for the pollution and the ill health and the endangerment of the lives and property of our people,” he said.

Ward councillor Aubrey Snyman said between 25 and 30 residents had been evacuated from the block of flats and Engen had accommodated them at a guest house. He said the pensioner who lived in the flat which had been gutted had lost all her documents and the pension money she had just withdrawn had been destroyed in the flames.

“The community has been speaking from time immemorial that the plant should not be in a residential area; it should be relocated to an area where there are no residents at all because we never know when there is going to be the next explosion. We are very wary and the sad part is we don’t even have an emergency evacuation plan of what process we would follow,” Snyman said.

A spokesperson for Engen confirmed that no injuries had been recorded and all personnel had been accounted for.

“Engen would like to express its sincere appreciation for the efforts of the emergency services, in safely extinguishing the fire,” he said.

He said all refinery processes had been safely shut down to ensure “the plant remains completely safe while investigation into the root cause of the incident is under way”.

“Engen is currently assessing its overall bulk fuels supply and demand position and implementing immediate mitigations to manage inventory and product supply requirements. The needs of our customers remain our priority and are assured that the company is working hard to ensure secure supply of core petroleum products to the market,” he said.

“Engen will continue to extend its full co-operation with authorities and government agencies in concluding the investigation into the incident.”

He added that the refinery adhered to “stringent health, safety and environment protocols and operates in strict accordance with its operating licence requirements”.

“Our immediate priority remains the safety and well-being of employees and the neighbouring community,” he said.

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