By NOELA EBOB BISONG & SIMON KALLA
Cameroon’s lone refining company SONARA in Limbe has recorded its worst explosion and subsequent fire outbreak since the refinery went operational in 1981. The explosion, according to a statement released by the Company’s management is said to have occurred around 9:30pm Friday, May 31, 2019. The unprecedented event has led to the temporary suspension of production in all the units in SONARA and has equally put all contractual engagements on halt.
No live was lost, but the material damage, observed in the debris present at the company, tells of a sad story, and a fearful future.
However, The SUN Newspaper gathered that some slight injuries were obtained by some of SONARA’s veritable fire fighters, who, coupled with other fire fighters from Douala did not get frightened by the wild flames which engulfed the refinery that fateful night, but did put in their best solve the situation.
Far from the suspicion that the incident must have been orchestrated by secessionists, an official government statement reads that at the moment, the explosion is as a result of a technical fault. It furthers that ongoing investigations will definitely establish the exact cause.
The statement equally reads that the Head of State, President Paul Biya has given firm instructions that the incident should have no negative impact on the supply of petroleum products to local markets, as well as on the welfare of the population especially around SONARA.
Unofficial reports however, point to the incessant electricity cuts as the fundamental cause of the incident. The fire is said to have broke out at the crude oil distillation unit, spreading to four other production units as well to some offices. Though the material damage is enormous, The SUN learnt that the new production line was not touched by the incident, as on-going extension had not connected both sites.
Minister of Energy and Water Resources, Eloundou Essomba Gaston, arrived Limbe Saturday morning to ascertain the degree of the explosion. Minister Gaston Esomba, had an in-camera meeting with top management staff of SONARA, and top ranking administrative officials of the region, where it filtered out that Minister Eloundou stated that SONARA will take a period of nine months to rebuild.
Some inside sources and other experts are however not as optimistic as Minister Eloundou, holding that the same scenario occurred in Cote D’ivoire though to a lesser extent, and it took them at least two years to restart activities. They maintain that the SONARA incident, far larger than the Ivorian one, will certainly take a longer time, perhaps, three years, four or more, they say.
Following Saturday’s crisis meeting, Simo Njonou Jean Paul, General Manager of the refinery who at the time of the incident, it is reported was on his way to Yaounde after a board meeting in Douala, immediately took a u-turn to Limbe when he received the sad news. Together with the Board-chair Bertha Ndoh and other top management staff of the Company, they stormed the refinery during the wee hours of June 1.
After a crisis meeting, the GM released a statement to the company’s partners, informing them of the incident as well as the temporary suspension of production in all the units in the company. The General Manager equally states in the release that further information will be issued subsequently.
However, the anxiety that was already rising over the imminent scarcity of fuel in the country, seems to have been quietened at least for now by the Minister of communications’ communique which states that government is taking the necessary measures to make sure there is uninterrupted fuel supply throughout the national territory.
Sources have also hinted that “SCDP storage tanks are full to capacity for about a three-month period. The military also have reserves for six months, that can be transferred for public consumption in case of calamity. And again, CSPH can import fuel for a one-year period for public consumption. Also of note is the fact that when SONARA, mandatorily suspends production for two months every year, in order to clean its cubicles, CSPH takes over by importing fuel, without the public noticing any disruption in supplies”, a source hints.
The explosion at the National Refining Company, (SONARA) has again sprung an economic puzzle for the state, already plunged in diverse political and social issues.
However, the population of the entire South West region is the one most saddened by the Friday incident, as they remain bewildered at the current sinister events around their three giant companies; ailing CDC, PAMOL and now SONARA.
Reactions from inhabitants around SONARA
The Friday night explosion which was heard across the city of Limbe (as far as Bonadikombo, mile four), caused a lot of panic within the population, as many around SONARA ran with all their might for their lives.
Jerry Kan Mokundage, an inhabitant in Limbe II told The SUN that “We have been experiencing this, but not to the level we experienced last night, which break glasses at home; people were running last night and some went into the bushes”.
According to Mboa Edward, another inhabitant and worker at SONARA,
“It was horrible; there was an explosion which was like a tremor, all glasses aroundare broken and some houses cracked”.
Also, Ebongole Charles another inhabitant on his part explained that “Yesterday around 9 pm, I was in my house with my family together, and all of a sudden we got a very strange heavy sound. When I got out, I noticed fire in the air so heavy and I just had to gather my kids and we started running and stopped at Isokolo market, when people started calling that everything had been put under control, then we went back home”.