Shell Pakistan ordered to pay $2.4m for oil tanker fire



Pakistani rescue workers gather near burnt bodies after an oil tanker caught fire following an accident June 25 near Ahmedpur East, 670km from Islamabad. At least 218 people were killed by a fire that broke out after the oil tanker overturned and crowds rushed to collect fuel, according to officials. [STR/AFP]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan on Friday (July 7) ordered Shell Pakistan to pay at least $2.4 million (Rs. 254.1 million) in compensation after more than 200 people were killed when one of its tankers overturned and exploded in a devastating inferno in June.

The tanker contracted by Royal Dutch Shell's local subsidiary crashed on a main highway in Punjab Province while carrying 50,000 litres of fuel from Karachi to Lahore on June 25.

It exploded minutes later, sending a fireball through crowds from a nearby village who had gathered to scavenge for the spilled fuel, despite warnings by the driver and police to stay away.

Health officials and police Friday put the death toll, which has continued to rise since the accident, at 218 and said 38 victims were still in hospital, some in critical condition.

"OGRA [the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority] has found Shell Pakistan responsible for the oil tanker incident and imposed a fine of Rs. 10 million ($100,000) on it," OGRA spokesman Imran Ghaznavi told AFP.

"Shell Pakistan has also been ordered to pay Rs. 1 million ($9,445) compensation to the family of each deceased and Rs. 500,000 ($4,723) to each of the injured," he added.

That would require Shell pay at least $2.48 million (Rs. 262.6 million) to the families of the dead so far. It was not immediately clear how many wounded would receive compensation, or if the death toll might continue to increase.

Ghaznavi said OGRA had sent a list of 21 questions to Shell Pakistan about the accident but had not yet received an answer.

Negligence by Shell

OGRA's investigation found that Shell never checked if the private tanker it had hired complied with safety standards, according to a report seen by AFP.

The report said that Shell had informed the authority previously that its lorries met technical standards and that they upgrade contracted vehicles, but the tanker involved in accident had four axles instead of the five recommended to carry such a load.

The report also claimed the tanker's fitness certificate was "fake", and that Shell Pakistan "failed to provide the pre-loading checklist".

It lambasted Shell Pakistan's emergency response as "casual".

OGRA ordered all oil companies in Pakistan to fully implement safety standards, organise trainings for drivers to deal with emergencies and spills, and do regular medical checkups.

It also asked them to organise awareness campaigns through mass media warning the public about dangers in case of accidents and spills, and called on local emergency services and police to review their response.

In response to questions by AFP, a Shell Pakistan spokesperson said that the company was still investigating the incident.

"Shell Pakistan is presently reviewing the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority Investigation report in detail," the spokesperson said.

"It would be unhelpful to speculate on factors that may have contributed to the incident whilst other investigations are still ongoing, but we respect the role of the regulator and will consider the report as we co-operate with investigations by authorities and as we conduct our own investigation."

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