Durban refinery closed until next year

Sne Masuku

Sne Masuku

The fire that broke out at Durban's Engen refinery two weeks ago has led to the shutdown of the plant until January next year.

Refinery officials said yesterday that repairs would take up to six weeks and a mechanical failure caused the fire.

The cause of the mechanical failure is still to be established. The fire broke out in the e arly hours of November 13.

Refinery general manager Willem Oosthuizen said two of the three large pump sets in the crude unit were damaged during the fire, and that damage estimated at R50 million led to the temporary shutdown.

Oosthuizen said according to preliminary investigation and assessment reports production should be back to normal by mid-January next year.

The unit, built in 1992, feeds crude oil into the refinery for processing.

Oosthuizen said two of the three damaged pumps had been salvaged and were being repaired. But the third pump and motor were beyond repair.

The closure of the refinery would have been considerably longer had all three pumps been damaged.

"The investigations into the cause of the mechanical failure are at an advanced stage and should be completed in about a week," Oosthuizen said.

"This will be followed by a report based on the findings.

"We are also awaiting the analysis of the air samples that were taken after the fire, which will establish if the fire had any impact on the health of the neighbouring communities."

Oosthuizen says the company will R6million for each day the reginery remains closed.

When the fire broke out there were fears of a fuel shortage but this has not materialised..

Oosthuizen rejected criticism of the age of the refinery - commissioned in 1954 - levelled at Engen.

He said this was ill-informed since there were a number of refineries in the US dating back more than 100 years.

He ruled out claims that a lack of maintenance had caused the fire.