Firey consequences

A horrific accident in Tanzania once again reminds us of the importance of properly designed border posts when it comes to dangerous-goods vehicles

On the morning of Sunday August 22, the brake system failed on a Lake Oil fuel tanker while it was on the downhill approach to the Rusumo one-stop border post (OSBP), on the Tanzanian side. The driver steered the tanker through the exit gate and into the truck park – colliding with vehicles in the parking area.

The driver died in the vehicle and the conductor was injured, while six trucks were burnt out.

There is no fire station, nor are there emergency services stationed at the border post, so these services would have had to be dispatched from either Kibungo or Kayonza, and would have taken several hours to arrive on site.

This is an oversight in OSBP design, where there are high volumes of tankers and vehicles carrying dangerous goods such as flammable commodities. The extent of damage caused by this accident could have been minimised if there had been emergency services on site. This is an issue Fesarta has raised continuously at border posts in southern and eastern Africa.

Tankers and other vehicles carrying dangerous goods and particular commodities that are flammable, toxic or harmful to the environment, need to be separated from other cargoes and prioritised, or fast-tracked through border posts. They should also be parked separately from other cargoes and preferably in a containment area with safe run-off and proper drainage in the event of a spillage.

I refer in particular to our report on the Busia OSBP, in which the potential for a similar situation with tankers queuing through Busia town (where there are food vendors all along the road cooking on open fires) was clearly identified.

The 2013 fire at Kasumbalesa border post was caused by two tankers colliding in the queue, rupturing the tank of the one tanker and causing a spillage of fuel that ignited when it came into contact with an open fire used for cooking. A total of 43 trucks (including their cargoes) were burnt out, and 12 people were severely injured and suffered third-degree burns.

These burnt-out wreckages have never been removed by the authorities and are still there today as constant reminders of what happened and what could potentially happen again – and which has, in fact, now happened at Rusumo.

The potential for these situations to be repeated continues to exist at other border posts in the region, such as Tunduma, where there is a similar situation of large volumes of tankers queuing through the town of Tunduma with food vendors cooking on open fires alongside the road. These are potential disasters of catastrophic proportions waiting to happen, which could have fatal consequences for many innocent people and communities, yet the governments and authorities in the region go on about their business as if this is not their problem, and continue to do nothing about the situation.

I cannot stress enough that something has to be done about this problem, especially when in the planning stage of the development of OSBPs, or joint border posts, and when upgrading/modernising existing border posts in the region – and, in fact, all regions in Africa.

Published by

Mike Fitzmaurice

Mike Fitzmaurice is the CEO of the Federation of East and Southern Africa Road Transport Associations (Fesarta). He has 42 years of experience in the transport and logistics industry with several major companies in South Africa, as well as overseas exposure with some of the leading transport companies in six European countries. Since 2004 he has established and run Transport Logistics Consultants. In May 2015 he became CEO of Fesarta.
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