How lapses by state agencies led to Embakasi gas plant explosion

Firefighters from Nairobi City County combat fire caused by Embakasi gas explosion in Mradi area, Embakasi. [Wilberforce Okwiri,Standard]

An emergency water tank, a borehole and a leaking detection system are some of the measures the ill-fated liquid petroleum gas filling station located in Embakasi needed in case of a fire.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Report that informed the business seen by The Standard also listed the use of electrical equipment that is certified to be flame proof and spark proof as part of the disaster mitigation.

The 2022 report prepared by Kenyanito Tsekou as the lead expert for Maxxis Nairobi Energy, the firm behind the filling station, documents that the proposed site, within a residential area, was selected due to its easy and convenient accessibility.

It also indicates that Nyayo Estate residents, who were part of those affected, had okayed the project.

“The proposed site is along a major road and easily accessible by Nairobi County Fire Department in case of emergency hence is viable owing to its accessibility to better emergency response facilities in case of emergencies,” reads the report.

It adds that keeping in mind the LPG facility requires a reliable supply of water for its operations and emergency, the same shall be obtained from piped water and storage tanks.

“If necessary, the proponent will consider drilling of a borehole to ensure more water is available,” the report reads. “In light of these alternatives, the expert can conclude that the proposed project satisfies the overall economic, technical, and environmental considerations to be licensed to proceed.”

While this report is elaborate, to every detail and possible scenario in case of a fire, how the early February incident played out is different.

Additionally, further investigations by The Standard show laxity among relevant authorities to either investigate or prosecute. Ground investigations show the LPG filling station in Miradi area is just 200 metres from Embakasi police station.

How it operated as a garage that also refills LPG under the nose of the authorities is a puzzle. According to review of the CCTV footage, the first blast was heard at 23:05:50, the second at 23:08 and another at 23:14:58. The biggest explosion happened minutes later at 23:14:58.

By 23:33, neither fire extinguishers nor the purported emergency water tank the LPG filling station needed to have had been initiated. As a result, seven people died and 280 others were injured. Hundreds others were displaced as their makeshift homes were reduced to char.

At the site of the fire, The Standard found charred remnants of vehicles that detail the intensity of the blasts. But it is in these shells of 24 burnt vehicles that the actual evidence lies.

Seven registration numbers stood out: ZC 1286, KAY 752A,  ZC 1403, KBQ 435R, KBH 580Y, KBJ 185X and KBP 985D.

Investigations by The Standard reveal the gas tanker, registration number ZC 1286 had been seized sometime back by Directorate of Criminal Investigation’s Anti-Counterfeit Unit, based in Nairobi’s Parklands Police Station, in 2020, on suspicion it was being used as an illegal refilling plant.

A paper trail revealed that in a criminal case instituted on November 9, 2020, Derrick Kimathi, the owner of Maxxis Energy Nairobi Limited, and his three clients were booked under file number E3776/2020 at the Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi.

The other co-accused were Elly Otieno Khwikha, Adan Hassan Mohamed and Francis Kinoti Muthee. They were given a cash bail of 50,000 each.

On February 2, 2024, Wanjiku Manyara, General Manager Petroleum Institute of East Africa (PIEA), in a statement to newsrooms said all the accused persons were found guilty and convicted, with a sentence issued on May 18, 2023.

Such an offence attracts a minimum sentence of five years in prison or a penalty of Sh10 million. The parties were however released on more lenient terms.

Senior Principal Magistrate Ben Mark Ekhubi imposed total fines of Sh500,000 or a one-year imprisonment instead of Sh20 million or five years for the proprietor (first accused) and a fine of Sh50,000 for the second accused instead of a fine of Sh10,000,000 or five years.

Ekhubi while issuing his orders on July 6, 2023, ordered the release of two vehicle sregistration number KAY 055E, KBM 872F and two trailers ZE 0458 and ZC 1286 all belonging to Derrick Kimathi while KBW 553C belonging to Adan Hassan Muhamed.

Kimathi paid a Sh500,000 fine as he deposited Sh400,000 on the same day of sentencing at 3pm to top up to the Sh100,000 he had initially deposited as cash bail. A law firm paid Sh400,000 twice on the same day as Kimathi paid his. The first amount was paid at 2:59pm and 3:16pm. Presumably, the law firm was paying the fine on behalf of its clients.

According to documents from the National Environment Management Authority, Maxxis Nairobi Energy is a project by Derdols Petroleum. At least this was the case in July 29, 2020 when the authority engaged with them over the Environmental Impact Assessment report.

A company search conducted by The Standard on the two names indicated that Derdols’s first shareholder is Derick Kimathi who owns 99 ordinary shares while Derdols Tech Services Limited owns one share. The company was incorporated on June 17, 2006, and is worth 100 shares in value. Location is indicated as Dar-es-Salam road, Razaaq building.

Derdols Tech on the other hand is owned by the same man. Information from the registrar of companies indicates that it was registered on April 23, 2004, and the nominal share capital was 50,000. The postal addresses of both companies are the same.

A search of the name Maxxis Energy Nairobi indicates that it does not exist or simply says, it is not a registered business name.

The brief from NEMA on EIA project report shows Maxxis Nairobi Energy as the business name for the project.  Then, the lead expert for the 10 MT LPG storage and filling plant was James Gituma.

However, the statement by Nema may contain half-truths about Maxxis: which Maxxis did the government through Nema refer to?

A search of the name Maxxis shows an almost similar company called Maxxis Green Energy Limited. The shareholders of Maxxis Green Energy Limited are Hassan Ali Ismail and Adan Hassan Mohamed, which is similar to the name we found in the Judiciary case in E3776 of 2020.

In the search, it is indicated that Adan Hassan Mohamed owns 500 ordinary shares. Additionally, Maxxis Green Energy and Derdols share the same address, same mobile number, and are within the same locality, however, the building indicated has been altered to indicate Razaaq building and Razaq house with one indicating Langata the other Nairobi West.

The proprietor of the ill-fated gas plant, Mr Kimathi, voluntarily surrendered to the police. Kimathi’s business partner, Steve Kioko, remains a person of interest. His claim has been the premise operated as a garage with a specialisation in repairing trucks ferrying LPG.

Heads have also rolled at Nema with four officials suspended for issuing a licence to Kimathi’s business.

The brief on the EIA project report from Nema shows a licence was issued to Maxxis Nairobi Energy to operate the LPG filling station on February 3, 2023. The proponent, Derdols Petroleum Limited, was then to obtain the necessary approvals from Nairobi City County Government.

“The proponent shall submit then site layout plan/ designs to Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority that meet the safety distances as per the provisions of KS 1938 – 3:2012, submit layout plans and designs to the Energy and petroleum Regulatory Authority which should meet the safety distance,” reads the brief from Nema dated February 4, 2024.

One of the issue raised by EPRA in the Nema report is an observation made by inspectors who found that the area proposed for the project was of mixed use: both industrial and residential. The industrial compromised of manufacturing plants, storage and garages.

It was recommended that a change of user approval from the relevant authority should be obtained. This information is dated September 2020.

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