Contractors hurt in refinery fire

Durban - South Durban environmental activists are calling on the government to investigate the ageing Engen Oil Refinery in Wentworth after a fire injured five contractors on Wednesday.

The fire at South Africa’s second largest oil refinery, nestled among the Bluff, Merebank and Wentworth communities, occurred at about 1.30am.

File picture: Mukesh Gupta. Credit: REUTERS

Desmond D’Sa, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) co-ordinator, said there was an explosion at the alkylation unit.

Gavin Smith, spokesman for Engen Refinery, said a minor fire broke out ­during scheduled maintenance work.

Smith said three people were treated and discharged from hospital, while two others were admitted.

“The refinery was not operational at the time of the incident.

"The fire was extinguished within five minutes by the refinery’s fire-fighting team. The root cause is being investigated,” Smith said.

The planned maintenance began on Monday. It would end in two weeks.

Smith said Engen sincerely regretted any concern caused by the fire.

The latest incident, said D’Sa, was one of many over the years. He said such incidents usually occurred during the refinery’s maintenance shutdown programme, and included fires, explosions and gas leaks.

“We have repeatedly asked for an independent inquiry under the jurisdiction of a retired judge or expert. Yet, to date we have received no response to this request,” D’Sa said.

The alliance is now calling for a stakeholder forum to investigate the incident.

In a brief compilation of major pollution incidents in the South Durban Basin between 2000 and this year, put together by the SDCEA, its investigations revealed that there had been 55 industry-related pollution incidents.