ACCRA, Ghana – A Greek fuel tanker went up in flames in Ghana's main port on Friday, trapping at least 15 people who now are feared dead and disrupting fuel production at the West African nation's sole oil refinery, officials and witnesses said.
Sparks from welding ignited a fuel leak on the Greek-registered MV Polaris (search), which had been undergoing repairs at the port of Tema, 12 miles east of the capital, Accra (search), witnesses said.
One witness said the fire was caused by an oil spill from a pipeline that had been leaking for the past week.
"At least three are confirmed dead because we have seen the bodies," said Ports Minister Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi.
Two survivors managed to swim to shore before the explosion destroyed the ship.
"The vessel is totally lost, and all human beings on board are feared dead," Energy Minister Mike Ocquaye (search) told reporters. Those on board reportedly included 12 Ghanaians, a Guinean, a Greek and a Russian who were carrying out repairs to the MV Polaris.
Ocquaye said the refinery was shut down because both the receiving and sending points of supply of fuel were affected by the explosion.
The minister said the refinery was shielded from the fire by a panel along the pipeline that carries the oil, adding that if weren't for that panel, the fire would have had caused serious damage to the refinery.
Ocquaye, who had asked the refinery to close down its operations immediately, said there must be an investigation into the incident.
He said the fire affected the seawater pumping house of the refinery, which serves as a coolant. Port officials at the scene said the fire melted a conveyor belt and a water pump of the government-owned Volta Aluminum Co. (search) smelter.
Christopher Ameyaw-Akumfi, minister of ports and harbors, said the government would set up a committee to investigate the cause of the fire.
Ameyaw-Akumfi said the government would make alternative arrangements to import fuel because the main pumping line of the refinery has been damaged.