Durban refinery blast: Parliamentary committee slams Engen for 'blame-shifting'

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The Engen oil refinery in Durban.
The Engen oil refinery in Durban.
Darren Stewart, Gallo Images
  • Parliament's committee on environment, forestry and fisheries says it is unhappy with Engen, after an oversight visit to Durban following a blast at the company's refinery last year.
  • Residents affected by the explosion said they were not taken seriously by the local government or Engen, and people remained sick and traumatised.
  • The portfolio committee said it would request more reports and information from Engen before returning to the affected communities.

Engen should take full responsibility for the aftermath of last year's blast at its Durban refinery and do right by the community stuck with damages and health problems, MPs have said. 

Parliament's portfolio committee on environment, forestry and fisheries conducted an oversight visit to the Engen Refinery in Durban South, the scene of a massive explosion last year.

Several people were injured, with some suffering serious burns. There were also damages to residential flats.

Committee chairperson Fikile Xasa said community representatives had expressed a lack of trust in Engen, the municipality and the provincial government for not holding Engen accountable for the incident.

"The committee was told that the community suffers long-term health conditions such as asthma, cancer, diabetes and other respiratory illnesses, and Engen does not take responsibility.

"Similarly, Engen has not repaired damages caused by the explosion in people's homes. The committee resolved that it will not accept the blame-shifting by Engen, instead of taking responsibility for the explosion and other associated problems," said Xasa.

Engen has since closed the site while the probe into the explosion continues.

ALSO READ | Investigation launched into Engen refinery inferno

Community leader Desmond D'Sa said the absence of Engen and local government representatives during the committee visit showed their disrespect for the community.

"The blast affected our health, some people are still very sick, but this multinational company doesn't care. There was not even medical emergency team set up to counsel residents who experienced trauma from the explosion. Nothing.

"Engen appointed a facilitator, but really, we do not trust the company. We met with Engen representatives on 6 December last year, but now they claim they cannot meet with the community because we are violent. We are not violent, we know how to protest and we do not face any charges from the police," said D'Sa.

Court

When asked whether there were plans to take Engen to court, D'Sa said litigation was the last resort. He said the community would continue with efforts to get Engen to listen, including lobbying for a possible boycott of the companies petrol stations.

"Maybe if we engage other communities and taxis to boycott Engen and therefore hit their pockets hard... maybe they will listen and take responsibility for their mess."

Xasa said information supplied by Engen contradicted what the committee saw during the visit.

"The committee has requested Engen to submit all reports related to the incident and will give feedback to the communities after considering and deliberating on all submissions, including from community members," he said.

Ethekwini municipal spokesperson Msawakhe Mayisela said the metro didn't know about the parliamentary committee visiting and meeting with communities.

"The city is big with a lot happening. I do not know about that meeting with the MPs."

News24 has reached out to Engen spokesperson Gavin Smith. His comment will be added once received.


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