Parliament grills Engen over Durban refinery explosion

08 December 2020 - 17:01
By aphiwe deklerk AND Aphiwe Deklerk
An explosion caused a massive fire at the Engen refinery, south of Durban, on December 4 2020.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu An explosion caused a massive fire at the Engen refinery, south of Durban, on December 4 2020.

Energy company Engen received a grilling from MPs and members of civil society when its managers appeared in parliament on Tuesday after an explosion at its Durban refinery.

The explosion on Friday last week created uproar among residents in the vicinity of the South Durban Basin refinery, with some threatening court action.

During the hearing, MPs and leaders of civil society grilled the leadership of the company on historical complaints about health hazards the refinery posed.

Addressing the opening of the committee, chairperson Fikile Xasa admitted that the committee members of civil society had approached the committee last year over health issues posed by the refinery. He said the committee had scheduled a visit to the site but could not do so this year because of lockdown restrictions.

IFP MP Narend Singh proposed that the committee reschedule a date for early next year.

“Immediate action must be taken to deal with those people that have been affected by the fire at the refinery,” said Singh.

DA MP Hannah Winkler asked about compensation of people whose block of flats near the refinery were victims of a fire that erupted as a result of the explosion. She also questioned what action would be taken to deal with a spill of oil or sludge that is spilling on to the beach.

Winker said she wanted to know what Engen was doing in terms of environmental remediation after the explosion and alleged incidents of emissions which have become a health hazard to residents living near the refinery.

ANC MP Phillip Modise said there was proper acknowledgment about the severe inconvenience caused to the community living around the refinery.

“I believe that a company of the magnitude of Engen should have foreseen that an incident of this nature could have taken place. Now if they did foresee that it is likely to happen, what precautionary measures or preventive measures did they put in place and why did this occurrence still take place?” said Modise.

Bongani Mthembu from the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance said peoples' lives were at risk when the incident happened, and that Engen has been disregarding the health of communities for decades.

“I would appeal to you,” he told Xasa, “please, with your committee, to make sure that Engen meets with the community and explain to the community exactly how or what are the mitigation plans or the plans to ensure that such incidents don't happen in future.”

Another ANC MP, Simphiwe Mbatha, said the committee, as far back as last year, had a presentation from young people in the community near the Engen refinery, complaining about pollution affecting them.

Yusa Hassan, MD and chairperson of Engen, told the committee that Engen was compliant and operating within the acceptable limits.

“We did try to basically engage with the community as requested, on Sunday ... but there were some disagreements with us,” said Hassan.

He said the company was on site to verify damage that has been caused to the area after the explosion.

Hassan said he had not received information regarding the oil spill. He promised a more detailed report in 14 days on the cause.