By Rabindra Rooplall
Months after a massive fuel explosion that damaged several boats and a number of houses at
Port Kaituma, residents are once again concerned about the rampant and reckless offloading of fuel daily which could cause another disastrous scenario. As a result they are calling on the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) to set up proper facilities to monitor the situation.
In April, last, a trawler unloading smuggled fuel exploded at the Port Kaituma waterfront, triggering a massive conflagration that destroyed three other vessels, a house, and two bonds which were also stacked with illegal fuel. The blaze lasted for about four hours before residents, armed with pumps and buckets, and using water from the river, prevented the flames from spreading to nearby properties.
It was noted that the fire was caused by an attendant pumping fuel from a ‘big boat’ which some residents identified as a trawler, into barrels on a truck, when the pump reportedly ‘backfired’ and ignited the fuel.
Residents noted that all fuel vessels are laden with gasoline and diesel suspected to have been smuggled from Venezuela. The fuel is vital to the gold mining community.
Fire Chief Marlon Gentle had said that a similar fire had occurred last year, and it was confirmed that about two other fuel boats caught fire in recent years.
Residents are adamant that there is need for a fuel station at Port Kaituma that can monitor the fuel being offloaded while ensuring that safety guidelines are being followed. There has also been appeal for the setting up of a fire station in the community.
The Government, through the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA), earlier in the year gave permission for the trading of fuel across the Venezuela/Guyana border – which was once deemed ‘illegal’ – to continue on the condition that the materials are only used within the boundaries of the border.
The Agency noted that under its mandate from the Government, it has recognised that there are challenges in supplying fuel at border areas and this has resulted in persons buying fuel from neighbouring countries, more specifically in the North West District.
The GEA specifically outlined that fires and explosions fall under the responsibility of the Guyana Fire Service (GFS) and the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and they are in the process of preparing a report which will then become the basis on which discussions will be held among the relevant Government agencies and stakeholders.
The Agency has disclosed, however, that while this decision has been made, officers of the GEA have and will continue to routinely visit the area at least twice per year in an effort to garner details of the happenings in the locations.
The monitoring agency has since warned, however, that while persons are now aware that the border trade will no longer be deemed illegal, special note should be taken of the condition which has been attached to it.
“Persons found transporting or selling illegal fuel will be prosecuted, particularly as it results in loss of revenue from related tax losses and negatively affects legitimate businesses. Illegal fuel can also affect consumers owing to the fact that usually, the smuggled fuel is often of a lower quality than the legally imported product,” the GEA underscored. “Anyone wishing to import an aggregate quantity of 2000 litres of petroleum and petroleum products in a vehicle, vessel or boat from across the border legally requires a Bulk Transportation Licence from the GEA. If a person is transporting bulk fuel in boats/vessels, the GEA’s officers are required to conduct inspections of the facilities, and all operators are required to submit the Petroleum Licence from the GFS, a Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) Inspection Certificate, Captain’s Licence, and a Vessel Licence.”
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