Benin: Dozens Killed in Fuel Depot Blast

An explosion erupted at a warehouse for smuggled fuel in southern Benin. Benin’s informal economy is heavily reliant on selling smuggled Nigerian fuel on the black market.

An explosion at what is believed to be an illegal fuel depot in southern Benin, killed at least 35 people and injured several others on Saturday, according to the government.

A Justice Ministry statement shared by local radio station BIP Radio Cotonou, put the death toll at 35, with a child among the dead.

It said a fire broke out at a store, adding that a preliminary investigation suggested it took place as gasoline bags were being unloaded from a vehicle.

The French AFP news agency said the blast occurred at a contraband fuel depot and reported that it happened when commuters of cars, motorbikes and tricycle taxis lined up at the warehouse to stock up on fuel.

The Justice Ministry offered its condolences to the families of those killed and announced an investigation had been launched into the circumstances of the “tragic” incident.

It said it was working with all the parties involved to identify the victims, many of whom were badly charred.

Illegal fuel on Benin’s black market

Benin is among the neighboring states of Nigeria and has a substantial fuel black market, with supplies smuggled from Africa’s most populous country.

As a major oil producer, fuel smuggling is common both inside Nigeria and among its neighbors, which hosts illegal refineries, fuel dumps and even pipelines. This is due to subsidies on fuel which make it significantly low-cost.

However, since Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was elected in May, he has upended that market, by dropping the fuel subsidies and therefore causing the fuel prices to skyrocket.

This has affected several smuggling operations in Benin and other West African countries.

rmt/kb (AFP, Reuters)

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