‘Several’ fire safety violations found during probe of 2018 Pulau Busing oil storage tank fire: SCDF

SINGAPORE: The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it discovered “several” fire safety infringements during investigations into an intense oil storage tank fire that happened on Pulau Busing in 2018. 

“These comprised two breaches relating to the storage of flammable liquid in the affected tank, insufficient firefighting equipment provided and the delayed notification of the fire incident to the authorities,” a spokesperson said in response to CNA’s queries.  

 “SCDF issued fines to the company for these various fire safety infringements. The company has paid the fines,” the spokesperson added. 

The oil storage tank, which belonged to Singapore-based company Tankstore, caught fire on Mar 20, 2018. 

The SCDF was alerted to the incident at about 5.50pm and the raging fire was put out after a massive six-hour operation involving several agencies. No casualties were reported.

In a written parliamentary reply in July 2018, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that based on preliminary findings, the fire was caused by a lightning strike on the rooftop of the tank.

Investigations into the fire have since been completed, SCDF told CNA on Mar 30. 

The probe included a detailed scene examination, understanding of environmental conditions during the incident and interviews with eyewitnesses.

“SCDF concluded that the most probable cause of the fire was a lightning strike,” it told CNA.

 It added that it did not discover any evidence that the lightning protection system (LPS) was not working at the time of the incident, and that its design was “in accordance with fire safety requirements”.

“Therefore, no further action was taken for the LPS,” said SCDF.

It also assessed the system’s test records. “The last LPS test record, which was certified by a professional engineer, was conducted on Oct 16, 2017, five months before the occurrence of the fire. The next test was scheduled for Jul 19, 2018,” the spokesperson said.

In response to further queries about the amount that the company was fined and more details about the delay in notifying authorities, SCDF said it had “provided a detailed response to earlier questions” and have no further comments.

Tankstore did not respond to queries.

The company owns and manages a facility on Pulau Busing, off the south-western coast of Singapore, for storing petroleum and petrochemical products.

WHY SIX HOURS

SCDF said the six hours taken to extinguish the oil storage tank fire included the time needed to muster necessary resources. 

A total of 128 SCDF personnel were deployed, alongside 48 firefighting and support vehicles including specialised equipment, foam tanks and a large “monitor” which can shoot 6,000 gallons of water a minute.

Two barges also had to be used to transport the resources to Pulau Busing for this offshore operation.

In addition, Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal was used as a holding area for resources that were not immediately required for the operation.

SCDF officers involved in this firefighting operations had said in 2018 that this was “probably the biggest fire” that many of them have ever encountered. Fighting an offshore fire was also more challenging as equipment had to be brought over on a barge, according to media reports then.

In its reply to CNA, SCDF said it worked closely with the company’s Company Emergency Response Team (CERT) “to ensure careful coordination and resource management to transport the essential personnel, fire-fighting vehicles and equipment to Pulau Busing”.

The company’s CERT had activated in-house fire protection systems, such as fixed and mobile firefighting monitors and foam pourers, to prevent the spread of the fire prior to SCDF’s arrival.

Upon arrival at the site, SCDF responders worked with the CERT members to set up additional fixed and mobile firefighting monitors to protect the adjacent tanks from the radiant heat of the fire.

“Despite the operational and logistical challenges, SCDF successfully confined the fire to the 51m diameter oil tank and it did not spread to the adjacent oil tanks,” it said.

Also critical to fighting an oil storage tank fire is the deployment of large monitors for the foaming operation.

Water could not be used on the tank fire as it sinks in oil, hence foams, which form a layer on the oil that deprives the flames of oxygen, is needed, SCDF had said in earlier media reports.

“Unlike other firefighting operations, fighting an oil tank fire involves a unique set of operational considerations such as the placement of the large monitors close to the affected tank to ensure a safe and effective reach of the foam stream, laying of 5-inch hoses for water supply, and ensuring a constant supply of foam,” it said.

“Once the foaming operation has commenced, there must not be any disruption in the supply of foam as it will compromise the application of the foam to form a blanket over the burning fuel surface order to starve the fire of oxygen.”

Source: CNA/sk(gs)

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