Deadly explosion off Nigeria points to the threat posed by aging oil ships around the world



OKITIPUPA, Nigeria (AP) — It was the dead of night when the ship caught fire, Patrick Aganyebi remembers, but the flames made it seem as bright as day.

The explosion that night woke him and knocked him to the floor. He tucked his phone and his ID card in his pockets, strapped on a life jacket and made his way to the upper deck. As the flames barreled toward him, he prepared to jump nearly 100 feet (30 meters) into the sea.

Five workers were killed and two others presumed dead in the blast on the Trinity Spirit, a rusting converted oil tanker anchored 15 miles (24 km) off the coast of Nigeria that pulled crude oil from the ocean floor. It was by the grace of God, Aganyebi said, that he and two fellow crewmen escaped, rescued by a pair of fishermen as the burning vessel sank along with 40,000 barrels of oil.

The Trinity Spirit’s explosion in February of last year stands among the deadliest tragedies on an oil ship or platform in recent years. The Associated Press’ review of court documents, ship databases, and interviews with crew members reveals that the 46-year-old ship was in a state of near-total disrepair, and the systems meant to ensure its safe and lawful operation — annual inspections, a flag registry, insurance — had gradually fallen away.

The Trinity Spirit fits a pattern of old tankers put to work storing and extracting oil even while on the brink of mechanical breakdowns. At least eight have been shut down after a fire, a major safety hazard, or the death of a worker in the last decade, according to an AP review. More than 30 are older than the Trinity Spirit and still storing oil around the world.

Jan-Erik Vinnem, who has spent his career studying the risks of offshore oil production, said he’s sometimes shocked when he sees pictures of oil ships in Africa.




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