GIBRALTAR: A fuel tank exploded and caught fire near a cruise ship in the British territory of Gibraltar Tuesday, injuring at least 15 people, most of them on the vessel, local officials and the ship’s owners said.The blast was probably caused by a spark from welding operations, Chief Minister Peter Caruana told Radio Gibraltar. But police were not ruling out any possibility including that of an attack, he added.Flames several metres high could be seen coming out of the tank with dense black smoke billowing across the port as firefighters directed jets of water at the blaze from tugboats.The fire continued late into the night, with Radio Gibraltar reporting more explosions were heard.The tank was close to the giant cruise ship, Independence of the Seas, which had arrived in Gibraltar Tuesday morning. The ship made an emergency departure immediately after the blast Tuesday afternoon.The Gibraltar government and the ship’s owners, Royal Caribbean International, both said 12 people on the ship had been hurt. Gibraltar officials said one of the passengers had suffered a fractured arm.Two Spanish welders working on the tank were injured, including one who was in critical condition in a burns unit at a hospital in the southern Spanish city of Seville, Radio Gibraltar said.A police officer was also slightly injured in the rescue attempt, police said.”The lid of the tank was blown off by the blast,” a police spokesman said.The statement from Royal Caribbean International said: “Immediately after the explosion, the ship retracted the gangway and moved a safe distance from the dock.”Twelve guests sustained minor injuries and have received medical treatment onboard.”The boat was on a two-week cruise, having left the southern English port of Southampton on Saturday, the company added.Air services to Gibraltar were suspended and offices in the port area evacuated.The police spokesman said the possibility of adjacent tanks overheating and exploding could not be ruled out.
Caruana described it as a serious incident but said there was “no cause for concern”.”Once it was established that there were welding operations going on, on top of the very tank at the time it exploded, (that) makes that a frontrunner for a likely explanation, but all possibilities are being kept open,” he told Radio Gibraltar.”The police are obviously keeping their minds open to the possibility of maybe a security incident. It’s looking unlikely but all possibilities are being looked into if only to be excluded.”
“The plan is to allow it to carry on burning itself off,” he said later Tuesday, but warned that the wind was due to change during the night, which could bring the smoke over land.Spanish tugs from a private company were helping the local fire services, he added.One witness said he was in his office nearby when he heard three loud explosions.”We started running out and saw one of the main tanks set alight. My concern was the poor people who were working there,” he told Radio Gibraltar.The public was being advised to keep away from the area and keep windows closed due to the smoke.Gibraltar is a 6.5-square-kilometre British territory of around 30,000 people off the tip of southern Spain.Madrid ceded it to London in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht, but it has long fuelled tensions between the two countries. – Yahoonews