An explosion on a Nigerian oil pipeline owned by Shell killed at least 12 people on Friday, authorities at the scene said, while members of the affected community in Emohua said they feared many more had died in the blast.
A spokesperson for Shell Petroleum Development (SPD) company of Nigeria Limited said a fire occurred on its Rumuekpe-Nkpoku Trunk Line in Rivers State and that it was working with authorities to put it out.
Garuba Yabuku, civil defence spokesman for Emohua in Rivers State, the heart of Africa's biggest oil industry, said the incident was reported around 4.30am (0330 GMT).
"The pipeline was gutted by fire," he said at the scene where the fire was still blazing from the pipeline next to five burned out vehicles flanked by a palm forest.
"Many people got burnt inside the fire, males and females," community leader Ogbonna Francis, a farmer, told Reuters at the scene.
SPD said an investigation by a government-led joint team would commence to find the cause of the incident.
Oil theft and pipeline sabotage are common in the southern oil production heartland of Nigeria. The methods used to steal oil often result in accidents that cause fires.
In April last year, a similar disaster killed 100 people