According to local reports, the Trinity Spirit exploded at the Ukpokiti oil field off Nigeria’s coast, near the Escravos terminal close to the River Niger delta.
Dramatic video shows the ship on fire with thick black smoke rising into the sky as it appears to be sinking.
The vessel is an FPSO, a floating production storage and offloading unit, owned by Shebah Exploration & Production Company Ltd (Sepcol).
These types of ships are used by the offshore oil and gas industry for the production and processing and storage of oil and serve a similar function to larger oil rigs.
The ship had 10 crew members onboard, Sepcol’s chief executive, Ikemefuna Okafor, said on Thursday, according to Reuters. It is not believed the crew members have yet been accounted for.
One industry source active in Nigeria’s oil sector told Reuters the vessel had about 50,000 barrels in storage but was not pumping crude when it exploded.
The Independent has contacted Sepcol, but the company has not responded to requests for comment on the 10 people said to be onboard or the quantity of oil on the ship.
Footage purports to show 2 million barrel oil tanker exploding off coast of Nigeria
Mr Okafor said investigations were under way to establish the cause of the explosion, while attempts to contain the situation were being made with help from local communities and the oil multinational Chevron, which has a facility nearby.
“At this time, there are no reported fatalities, but we can confirm that there were 10 crewmen onboard the vessel prior to the incident and we are prioritising investigations with respect to their safety and security,” he said.
While it is not yet clear how much oil will be spilled by the Trinity Spirit, commentators have warned that Nigeria was now facing its second environmental disaster in three months after a huge oil spill from a disused, capped wellhead released 20,000 barrels of oil a day for a month into the waterways of Nembe, in Nigeria’s Bayelsa state.
The impact of that spill was described by the Nigerian government as being “like Hiroshima”, with the leaking oil causing the death of marine life and damage to mangroves and waterways.
Built in 1976, the vessel has a carrying capacity of 274,774 deadweight tons and is 337 metres long and 54.5 metres wide.
Sepcol is currently in receivership and, according to the west African website Business Day, is owned by a combination of Nigerian and overseas corporate entities, which include Abbeycourt Trading Company Limited, Abbeycourt Petroleum Company Limited and Allenne Limited.