Day After Blaze Gov’t Admits Country Lacks Fuel Tanker Laws

A day after a Sokimex tanker-truck carrying diesel caught fire and destroyed six homes in Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district, government officials revealed that there are no regulations on the transfer of fuel by trucks within the city.

Currently, the only law concerning fuel transfer mandates that every station must post a sign telling drivers to turn off their automobiles while gas is flowing, said Chan Kimseng, director of the Interior Ministry’s weapon control and firefighter department.

“We don’t have a regulation to limit the time when fuel trucks can transport fuel to gas stations or through crowded places, but we have asked fuel companies to use quiet times,” said Mr Kimseng, adding that his office would consider formulating rules.

Tuesday’s fire took 20 fire trucks and firefighters from every fire service in Phnom Penh a little over an hour to control. Yesterday several municipal firefighting policemen returned to the scene to teach people living near the destroyed homes about fire safety and check their fire extinguishers.

Police said yesterday that Tuesday’s fire was set off when an electrical malfunction sent sparks from the tanker’s still-running engine flying into the petrol the tank was unloading at a Veal Vong commune gas station.

Fuel companies gave presentations on their gas station tank refueling techniques during a meeting at the Interior Ministry several months ago, according to Mr Kimseng, who said that the companies’ methods were impressive and that the driver of the tanker truck was most likely at fault for Tuesday’s fire.

Police said yesterday that they had yet to find the driver, who fled the scene of the accident.

Municipal police chief Touch Naruth said the owner of the gas station where the fire started remained in the custody of district police yesterday. A statement signed by deputy district governor Lim Sophea and taped to a makeshift wall around the station declared that it was closed for being “the reason for the fire on the fuel tanker truck and the cause of the explosion that destroyed many houses.”

Chea Then, a 57-year-old who lost both his house and his business in Tuesday’s blaze, stood yesterday under the twisted metal awning of what had been his furniture store and discussed potential compensation from the Sokimex company.

“I have filed a complaint against the company for $220,000 for my lost property and for the reconstruction of my house,” said Mr Then. “Now I am waiting to see the report and the deal the authorities give me.”

Deputy general director of Sokimex Heu Heng-charged with handling the incident by company chairman Sok Kong-said yesterday that he was waiting for the same report.

“Our company has insurance, and we will consider how to pay the compensation based on the report from the police, which will determine the cost of the fire,” said Mr Heng.

Two of Mr Then’s neighbors said they would make at least $280,000 in claims against Sokimex. Long Sami, a 68-year-old women whose apartment was gutted by the fire, said she would ask Sokimex for $200,000, while her neighbor Tri Vanna said he wanted $60,000 in compensation and funds to restore his home.

“My mother-in-law injured her hip, my wife injured her leg and my one-year-old daughter was terrified when we were forced to escape by jumping off our roof and onto the roof of the building behind ours,” said Mr Vanna, who also lost a car and two motorcycles in the fire.


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