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Pakistan Fines Shell $2.6 Million For Oil Tanker Explosion That Killed 218

Pakistan -- People gather behind burnt motorcycles and vehicles at the scene of an Oil tanker accident on the outskirts of Bahawalpur, June 25, 2017
Pakistan -- People gather behind burnt motorcycles and vehicles at the scene of an Oil tanker accident on the outskirts of Bahawalpur, June 25, 2017

Pakistan on July 7 ordered Shell Pakistan to pay at least $2.6 million in compensation after more than 200 people were killed when one of its tankers overturned and exploded in a devastating inferno last month.

The tanker contracted by Royal Dutch Shell's local subsidiary crashed on a main highway in central Punjab province while carrying some 50,000 liters of fuel from Karachi to Lahore on June 25.

It exploded minutes later, sending a fireball through crowds from a nearby village which had gathered to scavenge for the spilled fuel, despite warnings by the driver and police to stay away.

The death toll from the debacle has risen steadily as dozens of people taken to hospitals with severe burns after the accident later died. It stood at 218 people on July 7, with 38 victims still in the hospital, some in critical condition.

The fines ordered by Pakistan's oil and gas regulator include a 10 million rupees ($95,000) penalty on Shell Pakistan, one million rupees ($9,400) compensation for the families of each deceased, and 500,000 ($4,700) rupees for each person injured.

That puts the total of fines at $2.48 million for the families of the dead so far. It was not immediately clear how many wounded would receive compensation.

An agency report seen by Reuters and AFP said that Shell never checked if the private tanker it hired complied with safety standards.

The report said that Shell had informed the authority previously that its lorries met technical standards and that it upgrades vehicles it rents, but the tanker involved in the accident had four axles instead of the five recommended to carry such a load.

The report also claimed the tanker's fitness certificate was "fake" and that Shell Pakistan's emergency response was "casual."

A Shell Pakistan spokesperson said that the company is still investigating the incident.

"Shell Pakistan is presently reviewing the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority Investigation report in detail," he said.

"It would be unhelpful to speculate on factors that may have contributed to the incident whilst other investigations are still ongoing, but we respect the role of the regulator and will consider the report as we cooperate with investigations by authorities and as we conduct our own investigation," the spokesperson said.

The company has the right to appeal the fines ordered by the regulator.

The regulator also criticized police and highway authorities for failing to cordon off the accident site.

A separate government inquiry into police conduct is being carried out, said Punjab provincial government spokesman Malik Muhammed Ahmed Khan.

The chairwoman of the regulatory agency, Uzma Adil Khan, said many fuel companies are not meeting safety requirements introduced in 2009, and the regulatory body had been slow to enforce them.

"This incident is certainly a wake-up call for all of us," she said.

The regulator ordered all oil companies in Pakistan to fully implement safety standards, organize training for drivers to deal with emergencies and spills, and perform regular medical checkups.

It also asked them to organize awareness campaigns through mass media warning people about the dangers of accidents and spills.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters

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