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Probe highlights dangers posed by aging tankers used to store oil

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Global investigative reporters Grace Ekpu, in Lagos, Nigeria, and Helen Weffering, in Washington, reported for a year on the 2022 fire of the Trinity Spirit, an aging oil tanker that exploded while anchored off the coast of Nigeria. The ship fit a pattern of old oil tankers put to work storing and extracting oil around the world even while on the brink of mechanical breakdowns.

Reviewing court documents, ship databases and conducting interviews with crew members, their investigation revealed that the 46-year-old ship had been in a state of near-total disrepair, and the systems meant to ensure its safe and lawful operation — annual inspections, a flag registry, insurance — had gradually fallen away.

As the story reported, at least eight tankers have been shut down after a fire, a major safety hazard or the death of a worker in the last decade. More than 30 tankers older than the Trinity Spirit are still storing oil around the world, they learned.

Ekpu obtained exclusive video interviews with two surviving crew members. She also spent months pursuing regulators. At one point, she was granted an interview, but an apparently unprepared and flustered official got up from his chair, saying he needed to use the bathroom, and never returned.

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