Butcher Island fire: How did 'lightning-proof' tank get struck?

Oct 10, 2017, 09:23 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

As cooling operations start on Butcher Island off city coast, experts debate on what caused blaze

A third inspection was carried out yesterday at Butcher Island, off the coast of Mumbai, where one of the storage tanks owned by Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) had caught fire three days ago and burned for over 70 hours.

Cooling operations underway at Butcher Island
Cooling operations underway at Butcher Island

Experts from the Oil Industry Safety Directorate inspected the site after the blaze was finally brought under control and cooling operations on tank number 13 started. A team of insurance surveyors also visited yesterday to take stock of the situation and get an idea of the estimated loss.

Also read: Mumbai: After 3 days of firefighting, Butcher Island flames put off

What started the fire?
Though firefighters managed to keep the fire from spreading to other tanks, a major concern being expressed, by both senior company officials and firefighters, is that the tank that caught fire was a fixed lid one, unlike the floating tank that'd caught fire a few months ago in Visakhapatnam.

Also read: Fire engulfs Butcher Island oil terminal off Mumbai

Executive director and head of safety, health and environment, Manohar Rao said, "People around the installations witnessed lightning amidst heavy rains, and it is presumed that lightning struck the tank, leading to the fire." However, the tank, with a storage capacity of 32,000 kilo litres and carrying 30,000 kilo litres diesel, had a conductor to protect it from lighting.

Rao said, "The situation is under control. The entire operation should end by Tuesday evening." "We could prevent an oil leak into the sea as the fire was contained within the tank itself. As a safety measure, we emptied the adjacent tanks, sending the stock back to the refiners and other storage terminals belonging to HPCL 

and IOCL. We will be carrying out stock reconciliation shortly," he added. "We have suspended all operations on the island and evacuated the staff. We will be carrying out a thorough inspection of the remaining tanks to ensure safety parameters are in place."

To explode or not to explode
When asked about the likely cause of the fire, Mumbai Fire Brigade chief Prabhat Rahangdale, who visited the spot on Sunday, said, "I am not in a position to comment on that; the area is out of my jurisdiction. I went to boost the morale of my firefighters, who have been working non-stop for three days."

"Thermal imaging cameras were used to make sure that the level of the burning fuel didn't cross the marked level, or the tank could've exploded," he added. Senior company officials, however, said the tank wouldn't have exploded in either case due to its design, which might make it crack open or cave inwards but won't let it explode.

BPCL has clarified that the fire has not impacted any of its day-to-day work and all its refineries are functional. BPCL has eight tanks on the island with an installed capacity of 1.79-lakh kilo litres. Around 12 BPCL staffers and 50-odd Central Industrial Security Force personnel, manning the island, were present at the time of the incident.

Rs 25 crore
Cost to the company to rebuild the tank

30k kilo ltr
Quantity of diesel the tank was carrying

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