By KEJAL VYAS
CARACAS -- Venezuela Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez said that a key gas line at the country's large Amuay refinery was tampered with, leading to the massive blast last year at the facility which killed 47 people.
It's the first piece of evidence offered by Venezuelan officials since they declared last month that the 2012 accident at Amuay, the deadliest ever experienced by the local oil industry, was the result of sabotage aimed at destabilizing the country's leftist government.
In a presentation to oil industry workers, Mr. Ramirez said the year long investigation concluded that nuts and bolts on a key pump in a pipeline that transported olefins to the neighboring Cardon refinery "were intentionally loosened."
Mr. Ramirez said the dislodging of the connection line helped create a "massive gas leak" around much of the refinery's storage areas, which was then set ablaze by the ignition of a vehicle used by National Guard members patrolling the area.
Of the 47 people killed in the explosion, 24 were from the National Guard, while their family members living on the site of the refinery accounted for another 11.
The findings are part of a 140 page report produced from the investigation conducted by state energy monopoly Petroleos de Venezuela, or PdVSA, as well as the country's Attorney General's office and the state intelligence agency Sebin.
No independent parties were involved in the investigation.
Mr. Ramirez and other government heads dismissed as "irresponsible" an independent report released last month by the Energy Orientation Center, a group of Venezuelan oil industry professionals and former PdVSA workers, which said the Amuay disaster followed in trend of increasing accidents at PdVSA facilities. The analysts allege that the frequent mishaps are the result of insufficient maintenance at plants run by the energy monopoly, charges that state officials strongly deny.
Government figures say the alleged act of sabotage was carried out by enemies of the state but haven't specified who was responsible.
Officials say the blast left about $1.1 billion in damages at the plant. The losses reach $2 billion when factoring in lost production and other opportunity costs due to the accident, Mr. Ramirez said on August 25, 2013.
Jesus Luongo, a PdVSA board member who oversees the Paraguana Refining Complex, which includes Amuay, said the company will begin the process of making claims with its insurers, now that the investigation report has been released.
He said, however, that he didn't know how much insurers would pay for the damages.
Dow Jones Newswires