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Algerian gas plant explosion kills 23

afrol News, 20 January - A very strong explosion at the Skikda gas plant, Algeria's principal gas treatment and exportation site, has killed at least 23 people and injured about 74 others. The state-owned plant's administration today "deplored" the loss of lives while trade unions call for an investigation.

The heavy explosion took place yesterday, 18:40 hours (local time), at the state-owned liquefied natural gas complex in the industrial zone of Algeria's north-eastern coastal town of Skikda. The Skikda complex is Algeria's main processing area of gas produced in the Sahara desert and is in the process of expanding even more.

Algerian Minister of Energy and Mines, Chakib Khelil, the plant's operating agency, Sonatrach, and the labour federation today presented their "sincere condolences for the families of the victims" and announced they were to "provide them all assistance necessary during this difficult period," according to a press release by Sonatrach.

Workers at the Skikda plant meanwhile have blamed the blast on a faulty boiler. They told the press they had repeatedly warned of a possible disaster and a faulty boiler but no one had listened. Trade unions now demand an investigation into security standards at Sonatrach sites.

Energy Minister Khelil, who is also Director-General at Sonatrach, today told workers at the Skikda plant that Sonatrach would "not fail in its duties" regarding the affected workers. "The safeguarding of the life and health of the workers of Sonatrach is of primary importance," assured Mr Khelil.

The Sonatrach was also able to assure trade unions and employees that the state-owned company was already working on improving safety at its plants. Minister Khelil said he had already ordered "investigations and an ample diagnosis of the safety of all our installations."

Both Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Mr Khelil visited the site of the blast yesterday; the latter was on the scene within hours of the incident. Here, both met with upset workers and trade union representatives, who didn't seem assured by the politicians' promises of safety improvements.

The Skikda plant was used to liquefy natural gas that reaches the coastal town through pipelines from the country's vast interior. The liquefied gas is then exported to Europe. Other plants at Skikda - several also under construction - produce electricity from the same gas, which is consumed by households in Skikda town and Algiers.

According to Minister Khelil, three liquefaction units had been totally destroyed in the fatal explosion. "We will undoubtedly have to rebuild everything," the Minister told Algerian state radio.

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