By Saad Sayeed
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's oil and gas regulator expects the first report this week on a road tanker explosion, involving a Shell Pakistan contractor, that killed 209 people, a spokesman for the regulatory authority said on Tuesday.
The June 25 explosion took place after the oil tanker went off road to avoid a collision outside the eastern city of Bahawalpur.
A large crowd of people gathered around the truck and many began collecting fuel in containers when the tanker exploded in a huge fireball.
"We are actively pursuing the issue and expect our third party investigators to issue a report by Thursday and we will then begin proceedings according to our rules and regulations," a spokesman for the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), Imran Ghaznavi, said.
Ghaznavi said the tanker was operated by a contractor hired by Shell Pakistan to transport gasoline from the southern port city of Karachi to the eastern city of Multan in Punjab province. Officials had earlier said the truck was traveling to Punjab provincial capital Lahore.
Shell Pakistan Ltd, a subsidiary of energy giant Royal Dutch Shell <RDSa.L>, issued a statement shortly after the accident saying it would cooperate fully with all investigations.
"Road safety is a priority at Shell and we have already started our own investigation into the cause of the incident,” the company's managing director, Jawwad Cheema, said in the statement.
"It would be unhelpful to speculate on factors that may have contributed to the incident before those investigations are complete," said a spokesperson for Shell Pakistan when asked about the investigation.
"Our transport vehicles undergo regular maintenance and checks to ensure road worthiness, and Shell Pakistan has a dedicated team focused solely on road safety and transport," the spokesperson added.
At the time of the explosion, a spokesman for the Punjab provincial government said the truck went off the road after it blew a tyre and the driver lost control. The driver survived the accident and the subsequent explosion.
Fuel is a precious commodity for villagers in Pakistan, where more than 60 percent of the population survives on $3 a day, according to a World Bank survey.
Shell Pakistan said in a report it sent to the oil and gas regulator, and which has been seen by Reuters, that "to avoid collision from behind, the driver moved the tank truck to left hand side of the road on the soft shoulder which resulted in roll over of the tank truck".
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced two million rupees ($20,000) compensation for the families of the victims on June 26.
As of Tuesday, the death toll from the explosion was 209 with 60 people being treated in hospitals, a spokesman for Bahawalpur's Victoria Hospital, Amir Mehmood, told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari; Editing by Robert Birsel/Jeremy Gaunt)