17 Missing in Fire at Cuban Petroleum Terminal

Bruno Rodriguez
Courtesy Bruno Rodriguez

Published Aug 7, 2022 8:45 PM by The Maritime Executive

Cuba has reached out to its neighbors for help in fighting a massive tank fire at the Matanzas petroleum complex, which has killed at least one person and left 17 missing. 

The fire broke out Friday when lightning struck a tank at the Matanzas Supertanker Base, a fuel import terminal some 50 miles to the east of Havana. Firefighting teams responded to the scene and began an effort to bring the blaze under control. However, it spread to an adjacent tank early Saturday morning, sparking an explosion.
17 firefighters "who were in the nearest area trying to prevent the spread" are missing and 121 were injured, including five with critical injuries, Cuba's health ministry said. One unidentified body has been located. 

Cuban energy minister Liván Arronte Cruz is said to be among the injured personnel. 

Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba's president, said in a brief statement that the U.S. had offered technical advice on fighting the fire, and that the offer was appreciated. He thanked the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, Argentina and Chile for "solidarity and material aid." Both Mexico and Venezuela have dispatched petroleum firefighting teams to help with the containment effort.

"We want to make clear that U.S. law authorizes U.S. entities and organizations to provide disaster relief and response in Cuba," emphasized the U.S. Embassy in Havana in a brief statement. 

The fire sent a towering column of flame and smoke into the air, and satellite imagery shows that the end of the plume carried downwind as far as Havana. Local residents reported a sulphurous smell, consistent with the heavy fuel oil contained in the tank farm.

The Matanzas facility stores fuel oil for Cuba's oil-fired powerplants. Cuba's electrical grid is already under strain from years of underinvestment, and rolling blackouts have become commonplace - a point of increasing friction for the populace. The fire has raised some concerns about continuity of supply, though six tanks remain intact.