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Established: Cause of Sinai fire tragedy

Sunday March 18 2012

By PATRICK MAYOYO [email protected]

The Sinai fire tragedy in which 100 people died and 160 injured was caused by a leaking gasket costing less than Sh1,000, investigations reveal.

A leak from the pipeline, which sent rivers of super petrol flooding through storm drains into a slum, was all due to a broken gasket.

The rivers of petrol exploded into flames, resulting in one of the worst fire disasters in the country. (READ: 100 killed in Nairobi fuel fire)

According to a KPC investigation report seen by the Nation, the seal could have failed because it was poorly made, not properly installed, was subjected to more pressure than it was designed to take or somebody just fitted the wrong gasket.

A gasket is a seal used to join two or more pipes and whose job is to prevent leaks when there is high pressure in the pipeline.

On Sunday, an oil engineer conversant with the type of gasket that failed said it costs less than Sh1,000.

The report said the pressure of the fuel in the pipeline at the time of the explosion was within the range that the pipeline is designed to withstand.

The investigation showed that the failed seal was part of the newly installed Line 4 and it failed at pressures way below what it is supposed to withstand.

“It is not exactly clear why the gasket failed under the prevailing conditions, which were within normal operating characteristics of the system,” it adds.

The bad gasket was near a storm drain. During the accident, fuel gushed out of the pipeline and into storm drains, which carried it into a slum village and a nearby river. (SEE IN PICTURES: Nairobi slum fire)

By design, the system is supposed to contain leaks, not direct them to the municipal drains. The lead into the storm drain was accidental and not by design, the report said.

KPC lost more than Sh103 million in the incident, including the value of the fuel spilt, transportation of the spilt product, cost of environmental reinstatement, lost business opportunity, fire extinguishing foam, lost man hours and media expenses.

The findings are likely to trigger compensation suits from victims of the fire incident. Mars Group Kenya on Sunday called for the compensation of the victims.

“There is circumstantial evidence of gross corporate negligence and even reckless endangerment.

“A class action lawsuit against the Kenya Pipeline Company for the corporate manslaughter of 120 Kenyans on 12 September 2011 is warranted, in our humble opinion,” the watchdog group said in a statement.

The report recommends independent external investigations into the incident to assess whether the gasket conformed “to ANSI B12.60 standard on its performance to allowable pressures and temperatures”.

Also recommended is the installation of a barrier gate at the terminal’s storm drain exit to control the release of water from KPC premises.

“All storm water drainage exit points from KPC premises should be fitted with facilities for controlled discharge of surface water and containment of any spillage,” the report say.

Also suggested is a review of emergency response methods to make them more effective.

Nairobi council should explore the possibility of providing an emergency response centre with fire brigade fuel depots.

More than 100 villagers scooping petrol from storm drains died after fuel exploded, sending rivers of fire streaking into the Sinai slum.

The fuel gushing from the storm drains resulted in an explosion that blew off manhole covers, sparking rivers of fire that nearly reduced some victims’ bodies to ashes.

Some of those injured in the Sinai fire incident are still at the Kenyatta National Hospital. Immediately after the incident, Prime Minister Raila Odinga ordered investigations.

A team comprising experts from KPC, Kenya Bureau of Standards, police, Kenya Power, Energy and Public Works ministries was formed to investigate the matter.

It emerged on Sunday that independent investigations into the fire are yet to start. Lawyer, Paul Muite, who is acting for the victims, said details of the dead and injured in the Sinai incident were being compiled before compensation cases are filed.

“I am working with an NGO called Pamoja Trust, who are compiling data of the Sinai fire victims, and once they finalise their work, we are going to court,” he said.

Mr Muite said the report on the fire showed that KPC was at fault. Efforts to get a comment from KPC managing director Selest Kilinda were unsuccessful. He did not respond to calls or SMSs.

However, in December last year, Mr Kilinda told the Nation that a report on the tragedy compiled by the firm had been presented to the Energy Regulatory Commission and copied to the National Environment Management Authority, the Directorate of Occupational Safety and Health Services and the Energy ministry.