Bahawalpur tragedy: Shell ordered to pay Rs10m penalty, Rs240m in compensation to victims' families

Published July 7, 2017
A fire brigade extinguishes the fire caused by an oil tanker in Ahmedpur Sharqia.
A fire brigade extinguishes the fire caused by an oil tanker in Ahmedpur Sharqia.

Holding Shell Pakistan Limited (SPL) responsible for the Ahmedpur Sharqia incident, the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) has imposed a penalty of Rs10 million on SPL and has additionally ordered it to pay Rs1m each to the families of the deceased and Rs500,000 each to the injured victims of the incident.

In its report on the oil tanker accident at Ahmedpur Sharqia, Ogra has stated that although the oil tanker had been outsourced, the responsibility of maintaining standards lay with Shell since it was the licensee of Ogra.

According to Ogra's three-member committee, the tanker did not meet the technical standards required to carry 50,000 litres of petrol and it did not meet the regulations of Ogra and the Department of Explosives. Additionally, the tanker was carrying a fake fitness certificate.

BAHAWALPUR: A woman watches vehicles in flames after a large number of people were burnt alive in the incident — Online
BAHAWALPUR: A woman watches vehicles in flames after a large number of people were burnt alive in the incident — Online

The Ogra report attributed the ignition of fire to a lack of awareness among the general public and the lack or delay in response from the local government and motorway police to cordon off the area.

The SPL also failed to submit a detailed report, only submitting a short preliminary one.

The report recommended greater vigilance regarding safety standards for oil marketing companies (OMC), also asking them for a "timeline action plan for conversion of tank lorries of their contractor/haulier to the applicable safety laws and regulations".

It recommended the Oil Companies Advisory Committee to ensure an aggressive campaign to make the public aware of hazards, and the local governments and departments to revisit their plans for patrolling and quick response.

Incident and aftermath

The death toll from the Bahawalpur oil tanker explosion climbed to 214 on Thursday, according to medical sources.

Apart from more than 150 people killed immediately in the fire, more than 100 people had suffered burn injuries in the incident which took place on June 25.

Those injured in the fire were transferred to nearby hospital ─ DawnNews
Those injured in the fire were transferred to nearby hospital ─ DawnNews

They had been shifted to District Headquarters Hospital in Ahmedpur Sharqia, Nishtar Hospital in Multan, Victoria Hospital in Bahawalpur and Jinnah Hospital in Lahore.

The disaster occurred when a tanker carrying 40,000 litres of fuel overturned after trying to make a sharp turn while travelling from Karachi to Vehari on the main highway, and hundreds of residents of a nearby village gathered to collect the leaking fuel.

“After about 10 minutes the tanker exploded in a huge fireball and enveloped the people collecting petrol. It was not clear how the fire started,” a police official said at the time.

The cause of the fire has not been made official yet, but it is believed that a spark from the many cars and motorcycles that raced to the scene may have ignited the fuel. Firefighters fought the flames for over two hours before extinguishing the fire.

Motorway policemen Taqqi Haider and Muhammad Irfan, along with the driver of the oil tanker, had tried to stop people from gathering around the overturned vehicle.

They also used a public address system to order them to vacate the site.

In a statement recorded to the police shortly before he passed away on Wednesday, Gul Muhammad, the driver of the tanker, confirmed that he had tried his best to stop people from gathering around the heavy vehicle but no one had paid attention.

Sources in the Motorway Police earlier told Dawn that the tanker had turned over after a sleep-deprived Gul Muhammad dozed off while driving the vehicle.

National Highway and Motorway Police authorities on Thursday suspended six officers, including a deputy superintendent of police, for negligence and keeping their senior officers in the dark (when the oil tanker overturned and caught fire).

Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has constituted a four-member inquiry committee to investigate the inferno.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met the victims of the tragedy on Monday and told reporters that the government would provide jobs to those who were injured in the explosion and relatives of the affected families.

He vowed that the incident would be thoroughly investigated and those found guilty of dereliction of duty would be punished. He said, "We have to look at the condition of the tanker."

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