Mexico's Pemex says blast death toll hits 13, blames leak

Mexico: three dead, over 130 injured in Pemex chemical blast
Mexico: three dead, over 130 injured in Pemex chemical blast

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -- An accidental leak caused a deadly petrochemical plant blast that has killed at least 13 people and the toll could rise, Mexican oil company Pemex said on Thursday, the latest in a series of fatal accidents to batter the company.

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Pemex CEO Jose Antonio Gonzalez Anaya, who traveled to the site of Wednesday's blast near the port of Coatzacoalcos, one of Pemex's top oil export hubs, told local television it was unclear what caused the leak that prompted the blast.

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The massive explosion at the facility's chlorinate 3 plant in the Gulf state of Veracruz also injured 136 people, 13 of those seriously.

"We know there was a leak, what we don't know is why, but everything points to an accident," Gonzalez Anaya said, revising the death toll up to 13.

He said there was an odor of ammonia in the area, and the company was investigating.

The blast occurred at a vinyl petrochemical plant that is a joint venture between Pemex's petrochemical unit and Mexican plastic pipe maker Mexichem.

Shares in Mexichem were trading nearly 5 percent lower in early trading on Thursday.

In February, a fire killed a worker at the same plant, which lies within Pemex's larger Pajaritos petrochemical complex and makes vinyl chloride monomer, also known as chloroethene, an industrial chemical used to produce plastic piping.

The explosion was the latest in a litany of safety disasters that have plagued the state oil giant, which is trying to stem the bleed of sliding output and slash costs as it creaks under the pressure of low crude prices.

In 2013, at least 37 people were killed by a blast at its Mexico City headquarters, and 26 people died in a fire at a Pemex natural gas facility in northern Mexico in September 2012.

A 2015 fire at its Abkatun Permanente platform in the oil-rich Bay of Campeche affected oil output and cost the company up to $780 million.

Pemex said last year it had reduced its annual accident rate in 2014 by more than 33 percent. But a Reuters investigation found that Pemex was reducing its accident rate by including hours worked by office staff in its calculations.

Originally published