Explosion on ship rocked Sandefjord

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UPDATED: The former whaling port of Sandefjord was rocked by a loud explosion on board a ship berthed at a chemical plant Tuesday afternoon. Police were asking people to stay indoors as a strong odor settled over the area.

The Oleon plant in Sandefjord. PHOTO: Oleon

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that police initially were unsure whether there was any danger of more explosions. The vessel, described by VG Nett as a specially built chemical tanker, was tied up at the Oleon factory outside the city center.

There were no further blasts nor any injuries or fatalities. Officials later said the explosion was probably caused by remnants of oil on the vessel and was not connected to the loading of dangerous waste material.

Large cloud of smoke
The vessel was listing to one side following the blast, and one witness said its deck had blown up. The explosion also sent a large cloud of smoke into the air, and police set up a security area of 1,500 meters around the stricken ship, called the Mar Christina and registered in Malta.

The blast could be heard all over Sandefjord and some residents initially thought it was thunder. “But then we understood it was something more serious,” one witness told VG Nett.

Belgian chemical firm
Oleon is a Belgian firm based in Ertvelde near Ghent and bills itself as a leading producer of oleochemicals in Europe. It converts natural fats and oils into a wide range of products such as glycerine, esters, dimers, technical oils and biodiesel.

The Sandefjord plant, doing business as Oleon Scandinavia AS, has recently been specializing in “the production of esters based on pure fractions of fatty acids, mainly used in the cosmetics sector.” The company said it is ISO-, kosher- and Halal-certified, and has around 20 employees.

It attracted protests from environmental group Bellona in June, however, which accused it of storing dangerous waste materials from the offshore industry. Local newspaper Sandefjords Blad reported that Bellona suspected Oleon had tried to “hide environmental crimes” and mounted a demonstration against the company. Oleon later conceded it was storing oil from the grounded tanker Full City.

Norway’s climate and pollution directorate Klif investigated and said there was no danger of fire or explosions at the time, but noted that Oleon had no permission to store dangerous waste. Oleon responded that it was “provoked” by Bellona’s demonstration but conceded that Bellona’s claims were correct “to a large degree.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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