Iranian petrochemical complex fire blamed on accident rather than sabotage

 Iranian petrochemical complex fire blamed on accident rather than sabotage
Firefighters took 57 hours to put out Iran's largest ever petrochemical fire.
By bne IntelliNews July 11, 2016

Iran’s petroleum minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, said on July 9 that there were only technical reasons behind the blaze at the recently finished Bou Ali Sina Petrochemical Plant in the southern port city of Mahshahr.

The Mahshahr fire is the largest to date in Iran’s petrochemical industry, and comes at a time when the Islamic Republic is upping production of oil, gas and petrochemical products for export. Officials were worried that the fire could have spread to the entire complex, which would have set Iran back by years, as the country works to build up its share of the global petrochemical industry.

On July 7, when the fire ignited, there was speculation that the fire at the complex could have been an act of sabotage by Iran’s enemies. Iran's security apparatus is on high alert currently as there have been several attempts by separatist Kurdish parties to launch attacks on Iranian cities, as Kurds in the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Iraq and Syria all fight for autonomy.

However, Iran’s petroleum minister said, “It is highly unlikely that this is an act of sabotage, it has technical reasons,” according to SHANA, Iran’s energy news agency.

The fire was most likely caused by leakage of paraxylene, a highly flammable hydrocarbon, according to reports.

The fire was entirely put out by lunchtime Tehran time on June 9, after firemen had battled the blaze for 57 hours. Several news agencies have said that the fire was eventually put out after the site managers let the remainder of the fire burn itself out.

Iran exported 19mn tonnes of petrochemical products, valued at $9.5bn in the previous Iranian calendar year (March 2015-March 2016), according to the NPC's production control director Alimohammad Bossaqzadeh.

Fire's aftermath

Now that the fire is finally out, Zanganeh said the Bu Ali Sina petrochemical refinery area will be fully operational in two to three weeks, though the paraxylene tower that was set alight will take longer to fix, he added. 

The deputy petroleum minister, Marzieh Shahdaie, on July 9 put the total amount of damage at the site at more than €60mn. Speaking about the incident on national television, she said the Bu Ali Sina fire "pretty much shows the weak spots in our crisis management plans".

Following her speech, on July 10, SHANA also reported that the deputy chairman of the Iranian Parliament's Energy Affairs Committee, Hossein Amiri Khamkani, said that a working group was formed at the parliament to look into the causes of the fire.

Khamkami told SHANA that since the incident is of national concern, the parliament's energy affairs committee will go into the issue and a working group has been assigned to launch a full investigation into it in consultation with the petroleum ministry.

The Mahshahr refinery complex was a project developed under President Ahmadinejad’s government prior to sanctions hitting the country. The area was jointly developed by European companies, especially Dutch port companies, according to petrochemical experts in Tehran.

Mahshahr Special Economic Zone (MSEZ) is an industrial zone on the southern shores of Khouzestan province where a chain of petrochemical plants are situated.