LAGOS, Nigeria — Just days after an explosion in southern Nigeria killed 200 people scavenging fuel, an unrelated pipeline blast Sunday left dozens dead, witnesses and reporters said.
The latest explosion occurred in the early morning on a river between the villages of Ifie and Ijala, 3 miles south of the oil port of Warri, a reporter for Lagos' Vanguard newspaper said.
Many of the victims were believed to be vandals using sophisticated pumps to suck the fuel from the pipeline into metal drums loaded on several boats, witnesses said on condition of anonymity.
It was unclear what sparked the blaze, which caused the fuel drums to explode and spread a slick of fire across the water surface. A number of boats were destroyed.
Sheddy Ozoene, a spokesman for the Delta State government, said 16 people were confirmed dead and 10 were seriously injured. He did not rule out the possibility of other casualties. In the past, government officials have downplayed the seriousness of pipeline disasters.
Sunday's blaze was extinguished within a few hours, Ozoene added.
Gov. James Ibori was "deeply saddened" by the latest accident and "particularly worried" by its occurrence so recently after an explosion north of Warri killed 200 people and injured dozens of others last Monday, Ozoene said.
"We do not know why this is happening around the same time and around the same area," he said.
Pipeline vandalism, known as "scooping," is common in Nigeria despite the risk of a deadly fire or punishment including prosecution or being shot on sight by police.
In December 1998, more than 700 people were killed in a pipeline blast in Jesse. Since then, the government has tried to educate villagers about the danger of scavenging pipeline fuel.
But poverty and residents' anger at the government and oil industry for allegedly polluting the environment and financially neglecting the oil-rich Delta have kept the illegal practice alive.
Many of the victims in last week's explosion were poor villagers, including young children, who were scooping up the fuel in containers to sell along the roadside. The victims' families hurriedly buried bodies in shallow graves and whisked many of the injured into hiding to avoid arrest.
Officials have blamed organized crime cartels of organizing the pipeline-scavenging business and some have accused police and state oil company officials of also being involved.
Nigeria is the world's sixth-largest oil exporter, accounting for about one-twelfth of oil imported by the United States.