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At least seven dead in grain terminal blaze

At least seven dead in grain terminal blaze
At least seven people died during the fire that broke out in the grain terminal at Matola port (part of the Maputo port complex) on Sunday morning, during an attempt to steal fuel from a pipeline that passes beside the terminal.

Speaking on Tuesday at his weekly press briefing, the spokesperson for the General Command of the Mozambican police, Inacio Dina, said that efforts are under way to identify the charred bodies. “The lifeless bodies recovered are in a severely deteriorated state due to the burns they suffered”, he added.

Dina said the police have arrested nine people in connection with the theft and the fire. One of them has been hospitalized with severe burns.

“We hope that with these individuals in detention, they can explain this episode which culminated in major damage”, he said.

The thieves attacked the port by land and by sea, using seven small boats and two vehicles. But since there was no sign of forced entry at the gates of the port, somebody on the inside must have allowed the vehicles in.

According to a report in Tuesday’s issue of the Maputo daily “Noticias”, initial investigations point to the complicity in the theft of members of the police and of the private security force hired by the port.

Citing a spokesperson for the Maputo Provincial Police Command, Juarce Martins, the paper said that three of the detainees had confirmed the involvement of port security workers.

The boats involved belonged to fishermen, and were destroyed in the fire. A spokesperson for the fire brigade, Leonildo Pelembe, feared that more people on the boats may have died, and their bodies are still somewhere in the bay of Maputo.  The police believed that some of the fishermen may have escaped by swimming to the opposite shore, but Pelembe thought that scenario most unlikely.

But some people did escape, since “Noticias” reporters managed to track them down to the Pescadores neighbourhood in Maputo, where most of the city’s fishermen live. The paper found that two of the fishermen-turned-thieves had returned home with minor injuries. Apparently they did swim to the other side of the bay, and then received assistance allowing them to return to Pescadores.

Other fishermen are still missing, but how many is not known. A fishermen’s leader, Rafael Pacule, was unsure how many boats set off to raid the port, and how many people were on board them.

“We haven’t yet counted how many boats have gone, so that we can then find how many fishermen have been located and how many are still missing”, he said.

This is far from the first time that fuel has been stolen from the port. People living near the port told “Noticias” that the theft of fuel, particularly diesel, is a regular occurrence. One of the vehicles destroyed in the Sunday blaze, a Toyota Hiace, had been seen selling diesel to local buyers.

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