By Lincoln Barcon
Sime Darby, an oil palm plantation owned by Malaysian firm has confirmed a fire incident that led to the injuries of several persons on its plantation. According to the Public Affairs Officer of Sime Darby, David Kolleh who addressed a news conference on Monday, said the fire incident occurred Sunday morning thereby causing several employees to sustain injuries. The situation also led to the destruction of several bags of fertilizers in its chemical warehouses and other valuable properties.
In brief remarks, Mr. Kolleh said the plantation regrets the incident which started about 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning but was quickly extinguished by health safety and environment team members at the plantation.
As a result of the severity of the chemical explosion, Mr. Kolleh has warned residents of Clay District, Bomi County to stop drinking from wells, hand-pumps, and creeks in the area. Sime Darby has at the same time warned students attending the plantation school and other schools in and around the area to remain home as means of providing safety measures.
The company said the restriction will remain in place until an assessment is conducted by relevant authorities including the Ministry of Health, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Liberia National Police and other relevant agencies. Sime Darby has assured residents of the affected communities that it will provide water and other materials needed by residents.
Mr. Kolleh disclosed that a joint team of forensic investigators from the government are currently conducting an investigation to establish the cause of the fire though there has been no death reported but confirmed that several individuals were injured during the fire incident and have been taken to a local hospital in Monrovia.
According to the Public Affairs Officer, the cause of the fire is yet to be established but said the full list of those who sustained minor injuries are still being sorted out. Kolleh added that the plantation engineering team is also conducting assessment of the level of properties damaged by the fire.
“Since the fire incident there has been no human casualty but we have had several minor injuries with one major injury, a bulldozer operator, Augustine Tengbeh who fell when he was operating a bulldozer during the fire incident. He said the victim was rushed to a hospital in Monrovia and is currently recuperating after receiving treatment.
“We have never had any differences with employees at the plantation so the management of Sime Darby has no intent to link this fire incident to arson attack because the company and the people of Bomi County are peacefully co-existing,” Kolleh said. He added that there has been no complaint about crops and others being contaminated by the chemicals from the fire incident.
He said the mechanism in handling the chemicals at the plantation is a rigorous one which needs specialized individuals who are trained in handling some harmful chemicals. He warned that people who are not trained to handle harmful chemicals and not wearing protective gears should not be allowed to reach near or enter in the vicinity of the warehouses for safety purposes.
In a related development, the Africa Environmental Watch (AEW), Inc., formerly the Liberia Environmental Watch (LEW), says its attention has been drawn to recent fire incident at the Malaysia palm plantation (Sime Darby) located in western Liberia, Grand Cape Mount and Bomi counties respectively with great concern.
AEW in a press release issued and signed by it Public Relations Manager, Charles B. Yates, said it is now time that the relevant government agencies responsible for disasters and environment management in the country begin to brainstorm and find solution to the continuous waves of these outbreak in concession areas in Liberia.
The release indicated that this is the second time in two years that fire incident is being reported from Sime Darby Plantation where toxic chemicals were reportedly destroyed and pollutants from those hazardous chemicals were reportedly affecting the community, causing residents from the nearby villages to flee for their safety. Community dwellers complained of polluted air and the workforce on the plantation was forced to stay away from job for days.
AEW said it is concerned about the health condition of those workers and nearby villagers who were vulnerable during the outburst of the fire incident. AEW is also calling for speedy medical examination on all of the residents and local workforce around the affected area. The environmental watch group is further calling for a speedy investigation to be headed by the Ministry of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Health to establish the cause of the fire incident.
AEW says its belief is that an unhealthy environment affects every functionaries of the human being and certainly impairs ial, economic and spiritual growth, which has the propensity to provoke political tension.