A fire broke out Wednesday morning on an oil tanker off the coast of Nigeria, raising fears of a possible ecological disaster on its coasts.

It has been extinguished, the government agency in charge of responding to oil leaks said on Friday.

“The fire was put out last night,” said Idris Musa, director of the Nigerian Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (Nosdra).

The fire of the oil tanker with a storage capacity of two million barrels broke out on Wednesday after an explosion.

If it has been brought under control, it still raises fears of a possible environmental disaster along the coasts of Nigeria.

Images broadcast by local media showed thick black smoke billowing from the gutted ship, ravaged by flames – the origin of which remains undetermined – and sinking.

An open investigation

The Nigerian company that owns the ship said ten crew members were on board the floating oil facility off Delta State in southern Nigeria, Africa's largest crude producer.

A fire "engulfed our offshore installation, the FPSO vessel Trinity Spirit, at the Ukpokiti terminal, after an explosion which occurred in the early hours of Wednesday", announced the CEO of the exploration and production company Shebah (Sepcol), Ikemefuna Okafor, in a statement.

FPSOs are floating units ensuring the production and storage of oil or natural gas extracted at sea by platforms.

"So far, no fatalities have been reported, but we can confirm that there were ten crew members on board prior to the incident," continued Sepcol's CEO.

The company said it was doing everything to “control the situation” and indicated that an investigation was underway to shed light on the cause of this explosion.

Similarly, the national agency in charge of overseeing petroleum operations in Nigeria, the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC), "has launched investigations", according to a press release received on Thursday.

It was not possible on Thursday afternoon to confirm whether or not oil had started to spill into the sea, but the ship's storage capacity raised fears of a possible ecological disaster.

“There will definitely be an oil leak”

According to Sepcol, the "Trinity Spirit" has a processing capacity of 22,000 barrels per day and a storage capacity of two million barrels.

The number of barrels stored in the ship at the time of the explosion is still unknown and could however be well below its maximum capacity.

The Nigerian navy assured "to have deployed its ships on the spot to provide the necessary assistance", according to its spokesman Suleman Dahun.

Nigeria's Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (Nosdra) also said it visited the scene, but declined to comment further.

Environmental activists in Nigeria, however, are concerned about the impact of this incident.

"There will definitely be an oil spill," said Mike Karikpo of the local NGO, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Environment.

“This is a facility that processes more than 20,000 barrels per day (…) the oil will reach the surrounding communities,” he warned.

Oil spills are frequent in Nigeria but they usually affect the Niger River and its tributaries, and more rarely at sea. The Niger Delta has been the scene of serious unrest for years, with armed groups breaking through pipelines to loot crude , causing ecological disasters.


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