Welding repairs triggered fuel tank fire

| 09/04/2018 | 35 Comments
SOL, Cayman News Service

Fire crews douse the SOL fuel tank on fire, 23 July 2017

(CNS): A report by the utilities watchdog, OfReg, has found that a fire at the SOL fuel tanks in Jackson Point last summer was due to welding work that had been done inside one of the tanks on the previous day while it was still in use. The regulator has pointed to a list of factors and breaches in the management process which ultimately led to what could have been a serious man-made disaster and the ignition of the internal blaze. OfReg said that SOL, the operators of the tanks, will need to take a number of steps to address the shortcomings because failings on its part led to the fire.

“SOL, through its employees and agents, did not take all reasonable precautions for the prevention of the fire,” OfReg stated in the report.

The tank fire happened on 23 July last year. Dozens of residents in the South Sound area were evacuated from their homes while firefighters battled the blaze in extremely dangerous conditions for around eight hours. Although no one was hurt, the incident caused significant concern, given the environmental circumstances and the fact that the tank contained well over half a million imperial gallons of ultra low sulphur diesel (ULSD).

OfReg Head of Fuels Duke Munroe said that lessons had definitely been learned during the incident. “First and foremost, mitigation measures to minimise or eliminate risks associated with events such as these are being comprehensively reassessed,” he said in a release Monday. “This has, and continues to be our mandate, and is paramount. Additionally, from this incident, it was apparent that a better system of issuing evacuation notices and identifying evacuation routes was needed, as well as more appropriate communications to first responders.”

Munroe said that OfReg has made solid recommendations to increase the level of public safety awareness during events like these in the Cayman Islands. He added that OfReg would be exercising its regulatory powers following this investigation and is currently “examining appropriate measures of a regulatory and compliance nature to impose on SOL”. But what that means for the bulk fuel supplier is yet to be spelled out.

The report makes a number of findings that indicate the fuel company was not fully compliant with the codes, practices and regulations and, above all, safety standards in the first instance relating to the “hot works” or welding that was being carried out to patch holes in the roof and round the top of the tank, above some 15,000 barrels of fuel. OfReg suggests that the fire was ignited due to hot sparks connecting with oil droplets.

The work was undertaken by local contractors J&R Industrial Services, but the report found that SOL’s fire-watch officer was not on duty when the work was being done. Among other troubling safety breaches the report indicated that the internal fire suppression systems were not working properly and that at one point an internal alarm was ignored and turned off.

While it’s not against the Dangerous Substances Law for repair work to be done on a tank that is still in service, given the circumstances surrounding the work on this occasion, the regulator concluded that the tank should have been emptied and taken out of service before the work was done.

“The repair work, whilst necessary, should not have been carried out using the chosen procedure due to the extent of the degradation of sections of the roof observed by SOL,” the report stated.

The fire was eventually put out as a result of the work of the fire service. The fire chief had commended the bravery of the men who spent hours working in dangerous conditions, aware that the whole tank could explode at any time.

In a short preliminary statement, SOL said it has commenced a review of the report and that it “respects the Cayman Islands Government’s processes and the community within which we operate, and will continue to update the public. We reaffirm our commitment to ensuring that our Health and Safety standards and protocols accord with industry best practice and OfReg’s recommendations.”

The tank in question remains out of operation and the fuel company is believed to have sustained losses of more than $2 million because the fuel that was in the tank was written off.

See the full report in the CNS Library

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Category: Local News, Utilities

Comments (35)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    In this day and age the issue is, “move it”. Move it far enough away from George Town the Capital with the largest population as a district.

  2. Two Cents says:

    It’s interesting to note that while Duke Munroe, the OfReg Head of Fuels, is quoted in this release, nothing has been said by the head of OfReg, JP Morgan or the Minister responsible – who just happens to be the Premier, and Morgan’s Lodge brother.
    Where are these ‘leaders’ in this situation? Are there no consequences for the level of negligence reported here?
    Ghost leaders – again!

  3. Retired Captain says:

    1. CNS, get your facts straight: there was no welding inside the tank, contrary to your first paragraph.

    2. The diesel in the tank was contaminated by the foam pumped in by the fire service, so it was exported by tanker to a refinery for re-processing. SOL would have born the cost of shipment and reprocessing.

    3. Those who believe in U.S. rules and regulation should be aware that by those rules welding on the outside of a tank on land containing diesel is permitted under certain circumstances, idiotic as it may sound.

    4. ‘Hot Work’ as it is known, (i.e. welding or grinding) is NEVER allowed on a tanker at sea or in port, unless the tank is either filled completely with water or inert gas, or thoroughly cleaned and ventilated so as to be ‘gas-free’.
    There are enough experienced former seamen in the Islands who know all of this: these are who should be writing the Ofreg rules and conducting inspections.

    • Shhhhhhhhhh. says:

      Solid words 10.31. Sadly, not very often do we get informed opinions in CNS postings. I am also amazed that this could take place in this day and age of safety regulation. No escuses can ever be acceptable.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Why aren’t we demanding that heads roll. Isn’t this private sector?

    • Anonymous says:

      That’s why no one is shouting ‘decapitation!’. If it were the civil service they would swear it was a conspiracy to blow the country up. But the private sector can do no wrong in their own eyes. Yet we turn to the Civil Service to figure out what went wrong when the private sector muck it up like this. Because one you can trust to look out for you, one you can trust just wants your money for themselves.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Its just a matter of time.

  6. Anonymous says:

    “Fictional idiot, Derek Zoolander, more safety conscious than J&R Industrial Services and SOL fuel depot safety apparatus”.

    From their website: “J&R Industrial Services has supplied specialized services for highly regulated fuel handling and power generation facilities from terminal and tanker services to high risk hot-work, industrial hygiene, hazardous material handling, pollution control and emergency repairs since 1994”.

    Maybe they should be doing something else for a living?!?

  7. So says:

    When you have the prisoners running the prison, this will happen!
    Nothing will happen over this and the prisoners will continue to do as they please……$$$?

  8. Anonymous says:

    The fact is, measures to safely weld on the tank were never put in place. Complacency does not belong in this industry and as OfReg delve into this they too need to admit they were complacent in their oversight. Both the contractor J&R and SOL are obviously complicit in this near disaster. Now tell us what penalty SOL and J&R will face in light of this report. Without penalty the circus will continue.

    • Anonymous says:

      It should be a case of criminal negligence. There are people that should be arrested and charged with endangering the entire residential community of south church street and south sound.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The same people with the same level of intelligence will now fix themselves. Plan accordingly.

  10. Bertie :B says:

    use duct tape next time , works on everything .

  11. Anonymous says:

    Smoked a couple cigarettes on top of those tanks back in the day. The kids today dont know what fun they are missing out on.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Criminal negligence

  13. Anonymous says:

    “the fuel company was not fully compliant with the codes, practices and regulations” !!! Why do they not require regular inspections to make sure that all codes, practices and regulations are followed?? I hope they get fined for each one not being followed.

    • Jotnar says:

      Well quite apart from the obvious conclusion that Sol shouldn’t be trusted to manage a fuel tank farm when they blatantly breach regulations and their fire suppression system wasn’t even working, the report raises two interesting questions about the regulator – how come if the roof of the tank was below standard no one from the regulator knew that until after the accident? And ditto the fact that the fire suppression system wasn’t working? Fact that th seifiotsvdecided to weld a tank with fuel and fumes in it is one thing, but what about the ongoing problems with the safety of the tank and the systems that should have been picked up by any inspection program – or does the regulator just trust the operator?

  14. West Bay Premier says:

    Ihave to think that was the most stupid thing I ever seen/heard of ADULTS doing in my life . I’ve heard of the saying , don’t cut the limb you’re sitting on. But never see anyone do it .
    OFReg needs to make it mandatory by Law that they SOL be supervised before and while they do any dangerous /hazardous work . The Island shouldn’t take NO MORE CHANCES with SOL dealing with those fuels storage tanks .
    Then how was that half million gallons of diesel disposed of ? They should be made to answer that question too . Sense they are so careless and negligent .

    • Anonymous says:

      My bet is that it goes into the ocean.

    • Anonymous says:

      if you learn to read and not just be a keyboard warrior this year check out the report, it says how they did it in there. I won’t spoil it for you

      • Charles Darwin says:

        To you, the random person who also taught “he shoulda jus spoil it man I na in the mood to search through 60 pages.” I’ll save you the searching since I found it already.

        Fuel Samples were taken from Tank No.8 for testing to verify the extent of any contamination following the incident (response).
        o The product was subsequently re-exported based on the results obtained.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Boy that watch dog is slow! I’m pretty sure the whole island knew the cause of the fire minutes after the alarm was raised.

    Still baffled as to how it was deemed a good idea to weld a tank full of fuel though.

  16. Ciskei says:

    Its time J&R staff and all their buddies at the top of SOL be put on trial and jailed Plain and simple someone needs to pay for this foolishness that could have a very deadly consequences for this entire island Lock Dem Lock Dem ! All these johnny come lately that have drifted up on our shores need to go home!! Too many here in crucial and critical positions in our little island.

  17. Anonymous says:

    “Welding…above some 15,000 barrels of fuel”


  18. Anonymous says:


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