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CARIB | Aug 8, 2022

CARICOM stands with Cuba amid deadly fire at Matanzas

/ Our Today

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A couple sits near the sea as smoke rises over fuel storage tanks that exploded near Cuba’s supertanker port in Matanzas, Cuba, August 7, 2022. (File Photo: REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini)

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) has extended its support to the government and people of Cuba in the aftermath of a disastrous fire at the Port of Matanzas.

In a statement today (August 8), CARICOM said: “We extend our condolences on the loss of life and wish a speedy recovery to the scores of people who were injured in this tragic accident brought on by an act of nature.

“The extensive damage to infrastructure and the environment is also of concern to the Community and in the same manner of the steadfast fraternity shown to CARICOM by our sister nation, the Community stands in solidarity with Cuba as it seeks to limit the damage of this disaster and offers our assistance to our longstanding friend and partner to overcome this setback.”

BIGGEST OIL INDUSTRY ACCIDENT IN DECADES

CARICOM’s show of support came as a third crude tank caught fire and collapsed today, at Cuba’s main oil terminal in Matanzas, as an oil spill spread flames from a second tank that caught fire two days earlier in the island’s biggest oil industry accident in decades.

Cuba had made progress fighting off the raging flames during the weekend after drawing on help from Mexico and Venezuela, but late on Sunday the fire began spreading from the second tank, which collapsed, said Mario Sabines, governor of the Matanzas province, about 60 miles (130 km) from Havana.

A fourth tank is threatened, but had yet to catch fire.

Matanzas is Cuba’s largest port for receiving crude oil and fuel imports. Cuban heavy crude, as well as fuel oil and diesel stored in Matanzas, are mainly used to generate electricity on the island.

Sabines compared the situation to an “Olympic torch” going from one tank to the next, turning each into a “caldron” and now encompassing the area covering three tanks and with flames and billowing black smoke making tackling the situation “complicated.”

One fire fighter has died and 16 persons are missing, all from Saturday’s explosion at the second storage tank.

Cuban state-run television has covered the unfolding disaster live since Saturday and President Miguel Diaz-Canel has been a constant presence there, highlighting the economic and political importance of the situation.

FILE PHOTO: Fire is seen over fuel storage tanks that exploded near Cuba’s supertanker port in Matanzas, Cuba, August 7, 2022. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo

The Communist-run and heavily US sanctioned country is all but bankrupt and blackouts, gas and other shortages already had created a tense situation with scattered local protests following last Summers historic unrest in July.

The power grid is more than 90 per cent dependent on local and imported fuel and Jorge Pinon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Latin America and Caribbean Energy and Environment, said the fire brought into question both.

“The key questions now are where Cuban crude oil production will go to generate fuel for electrical use as it is only connected by pipeline to Matanzas,” Pinon said, adding the facility has an installed capacity of 2.4 million barrels.

A tanker carrying Russian crude to Matanzas, identified by Refinitiv Eikon monitoring service, is unlikely to be able to discharge next week, even if docks are not affected by the fire, because of possible damage to tanks, pipelines and valves, analysts said.

Since Matanzas is the only terminal with capacity to receive large vessels, Pinon said, the tanker might be forced to transfer its cargo via ship-to-ship operations so the crude can be refined at the Cienfuegos or Havana refineries, “but it is not clear Cuba has the capacity to do that”.

‘NO LIGHTS AND NO GAS’

Residents expressed fear that the crisis will worsen as the hottest months of the year bear down.

“Oh my God, no lights and no gas, that is what this means,” Havana resident Pia Ferrer exclaimed in an upscale neighbourhood of Havana.

At noon on Monday, authorities announced the country’s most important power plant, located less than a mile from the fire, had been shut down due to low water pressure in the area.

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