What you need to know:
- Resident of Sinai slum say presence of illegal fuel vendors who always have prior knowledge of imminent spillage is enough evidence
There is a possibility that some residents of Sinai slum were expecting the petrol that swept through an open drain, fuelling a fire that killed more than 100 people and left scores nursing serious burns on September 12.
Survivors told the Sunday Nation that the presence of illegal petrol vendors at the scene before the fuel came surging through indicates that somebody had advance knowledge of what Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) has termed as a spillage.
The vendors are believed to have been among the people who perished in the fire.
Enquiries indicate there could be a strong link between some residents, the illegal fuel vendors and some elements within KPC.
According to Mr George Njoroge, who escaped with burnt arms, every few months, the drainage system discharges diesel and kerosine when KPC is cleaning fuel storage tanks.
“Every time this happens, illegal fuel vendors who operate along Lunga Lunga road come to the slum to purchase the diesel from residents who scoop it from the drainage system. There is always advance information when this is going to happen. It was no different on Monday only this time, what came through was super petrol,” he said.
However, KPC, through its spokesperson Jancita Sekoh-Ochieng, discredited this version of events, saying the company has never made discharges into the drainage system. Ms Sekoh-Ochieng added that had this been the case, there should have been adverse reports made against the company.
“We have always protected the environment. There are other companies that use the city council storm drainage system, and they use heavy fuels. For us we only transport fuels. It went into the drain because of this accident,” she said.
According to the residents, the seepages that they are used to come in trickles, and scooping the fuel is a tedious process that many people cannot be bothered to do.
Past their knees
“What came through on Monday was a river of petrol. It was so much that you could dip in a 20-litre container into it. People who were standing in the drainage had fuel going way up past their knees,” said Ms Njeri, a survivor.
The huge volume of petrol makes residents doubt KPC’s explanation that the spillage was a normal accident.
“It is incredible that an ordinary spill could result in a raging river of petrol,” said Mr Patrick Orege, another survivor.
Some of the residents believe someone inside KPC could have deliberately triggered the spillage to cover up the theft. The reasoning is that once the fuel had been discharged into the drainage system, even petrol that may have been stolen would be accounted for together with what went into the river.
KPC managing director Selest Kilinda has maintained the spillage occurred because of a technical hitch in the by-pass between Nairobi-Mombasa and Nairobi-Eldoret pipelines.
“The section of the pipeline was depressurised and emergency response initiated to the site after we had detected the spillage in the water drain,” Mr Kilinda said.
He added that by the time this was done, the spillage had already flowed to the drain leading to Mukuru-Sinai slums.
The company said there was no burst pipe at Sinai or anywhere else, adding that the petrol reached the informal settlement via a City Council storm sewer in the vicinity.
“There was no negligence or complicity on part of KPC. The issue of illegal settlements is multifaceted and requires joint action by various government agencies,” KPC said in a statement.
While KPC distances itself from spillages into the drainage system, Sinai residents have been consistent in their claims that diesel regularly trickles down through a manhole and into an open trench that empties into the Ngong River.
As fate would have it, Sinai is located off Lunga Lunga Road, which is home to a large fuel syndicate in which millions of shillings change hands every day. Slum residents, therefore, have a ready market for any fuel they can lay their hands on.
Hawking at the roadside
“When we get some fuel, we sell it to the vendors who know how to dispose of it. You can’t just get fuel and start hawking at the roadside,” Mr Njoroge said.
Week-long investigations by the Sunday Nation have revealed that the vendors are part of an elaborate fuel black market that feeds many independent petrol stations around the country.
This fuel is obtained in several ways. Petrol tankers normally retain some residue when they go to load a new consignment at KPC. The crews drain it out and sell it to the vendors for cash.
The “washed fuel” is put in drums dispatched to various outlets at night.
Some residents say residue left after when the pipeline is flushed out between transmission of diesel and petrol also enters the illegal market.
According to our sources, there is big money to be made in the racket, and the brains behind it are wealthy people with plenty of disposable cash. Every player runs scores of vendors whose job it is to secure fuel for which they are paid a commission.
“There is immediate cash for any amount of fuel. Even if you brought petrol worth a million shillings, all it will take is a phone call. The ‘boss’ is never far away,” said our source.
In addition to the residue fuel from tankers, many long-distance truck drivers and their crews siphon fuel from their trucks; it also ends up in this black market.
Residents of Sinai say they do not know any fuel vendor who lived in the slum. They point out that the vendors make enough money to live in better places.
Opinion is divided as to how the fuel caught fire. While some residents claim it was ignited by a cigarette, others says it is possible fumes swept into houses where breakfast fires had been lit, sparking the explosion.