KARACHI: At about 6:30am on June 25, an oil tanker en route from Keamari, Sindh, to Vehari, Punjab, met with an accident. The vehicle overturned and the oil inside quickly spilled out onto the road near village Safeerwala, 6km from Ahmedpur Sharqia.

A ‘primary report’ about the incident submitted by Shell Pakistan to the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) maintains that tank lorry TLJ-352, a vehicle on contract from the Karachi-based Marwat Enterprises transport company, had a capacity of 50,000 litres and was carrying motor gasoline. The accident is described as a “roll over incident resulting in spillage and fire” with the extent of reported damage amounting to “130 dead, 100 injured; 75 bikes and 3 cars burnt”. The death toll later rose to 164.

The ghastly incident has cast a pall of gloom across the country as victims are buried and treated. Officials scratched their heads as to what went wrong and many have blamed onlookers for thronging the area after the accident.

But questions are now being raised: was the vehicle involved in the oil leak and fire incident fit to move dangerous goods? And do the oil companies have a responsibility to ensure that fuel is being loaded onto vehicles that are compliant?

Shell describes the key factor for the incident as follows: “The tank lorry was travelling at 35kms per hour (we have the tracker report as evidence) which is within the speed limit. As per our initial haulier investigation, a passenger bus after overtaking the tank lorry applied harsh break in front of the tank lorry. To avoid collision from behind, the driver moved the tank lorry to left hand side of the road on the soft shoulder which resulted in roll over of the tank lorry.”

At the end, the petroleum company adds, “Sadly not realising the huge safety risk involved, people from the nearby village gathered to collect the spilled product in buckets/containers. Despite utmost effort by the local traffic authorities to manage the incident, a chaos erupted which resulted in such a grave tragedy.”

Was the vehicle involved in the oil leak and fire incident fit to move dangerous goods?

Soon after the high casualty accident gained national media coverage, Managing Director of Shell Pakistan Jawwad Cheema posted a statement to the company website expressing shock at the accident and extended condolence to victims, while also adding: “The tanker is owned by Marwat Enterprises which was transporting fuel from the Shell Oil Terminal in Keamari, Karachi to Vehari.”

While the Marwat Group has not responded to Dawn’s request for a comment, an automobile industry expert who deals with road freight says the vehicle was “unstable and inadequate”.

“If we look at the very basic standards — load per axle as per the National Highway Authority (NHA) — it was found non-compliant (overloaded), making this tank trailer unstable,” the expert says, requesting anonymity.

“The center of gravity was also not as per the regulation. A 50,000 litre tank trailer should have been a 6x4 configuration prime mover with a three axle trailer (total of six axles or 22 tyres). This was a 4x2 prime mover with a 2 axle trailer (total of only 14 tyres). Hence it was inherently unstable.”

He also says the vehicle violates the rules of Ogra and ADR, the accord for international carriage of dangerous goods. “Secondly, it had improper manhole covers without fire engulfment valves which are required under ADR and OGRA rules. It had no rollover coaming protection on tank top. It had no ABS brakes and even its primary brakes seemed compromised and [of] sub-standard.”

Contrary to these observations, the Marwat Group on its website maintains that it is striving towards compliance with ADR standards for vehicles. Its listed clients include Shell Pakistan Limited, BHP Billiton, Pakistan State Oil Limited, Attock Refinery Limited, Pak Arab Refinery, SHV Energy, Pakistan Gas and Total PARCO Limited.

The information available on their website reads, “We have decided that all new vehicles including the trailers being currently added in our fleet should fully comply with the ADR standards.”

“Furthermore, arrangements have also been made with Shell for the replacement of old vehicles with new vehicles which in addition to fully complying with the ADR standards shall also fully comply with any additional requirement of Shell Pakistan Limited (SPL), thereby, reflecting our commitment to serve our valued clients in the most modern and safest way. Plans are also under way to further upgrade our old vehicles to comply fully with the ADR standards.”

While it is not stated when this information was posted to the website and whether these upgrades have taken place, the website also maintains: “In this regard, arrangements have been made with the Automobile Corporation of Pakistan (ACP) for the construction of several ADR complying trailers.”

When asked if the vehicle involved in the tragic accident in Bahawalpur was provided by ACP, Khayam Husain, the head of the transport solution company, says: “We do not provide tank trucks to Marwat. They build their own.”

Mr Husain adds, “We build tank trailers to UN ADR standards. All branded vehicles of Shell, Total, Hascol are made by us. Though an accident could have spillage from the safest of vehicles, the standards are made to mitigate the accidents.”

He explains the issue of implementation: “In Pakistan, Ogra rules were made in 2009 in parallel to UN ADR standards. However, the regulator does not have the means to implement them. Shell and Total standards exceed Ogra. In their new trucks they have an automatic rollover prevention device fitted electronically.”

The former executive of a petroleum company tells Dawn, “Oil companies often engage cartage contractors who ought to meet certain safety standards. This particular tanker was a non standard vehicle which did not meet the safety standard which was gross negligence. The company concerned should not have moved motor gasoline in such a substandard tanker.”

Responsibility and recourse

Ogra spokesperson Imran Ghaznavi says that Ogra has initiated an inquiry and will receive a report in a few days.

“We have appointed third party inspectors to investigate the issue. Shell has sent us their reply but we will proceed as soon as we receive the independent report from our inspector.”

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2017

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