germany tanker explosion.jpg
Photograph: EPA/MARCEL KUSCH

An explosion on an oil tanker rocked a shipyard in western Germany on Thursday morning, killing at least two people, a police statement said.

A third dockworker remains missing after the blast in Duisburg, despite an extensive search operation.

The force of the blast from one of the vessel's fuel holds, which completely destroyed the front of the tanker, catapulted the two workers' bodies several hundred metres onto the land.

Rescue divers have been called to the scene to look for the third man.

Police said that the explosion had probably occurred as a result of a gas leak. Initial reports pointed to work being carried out on the ship as the likely cause. The vessel's fuel is thought to have been unaffected.

Ship parts were found over half a kilometre from the site of the explosion.

Thick smoke was seen billowing from the fuel hold. Fire safety experts took about one hour to extinguish the resulting blaze.

Local prosecutors have launched an investigation into the cause of the fire and the state environment agency in North Rhine-Westphalia has requested a probe of the water at the dock.

The inland motor tanker, measuring 110 metres in length and registered as the property of a Duisburg-based shipowner under the name Julius Ruetgers, is currently situated in a port basin where it will undergo inspection.

Police said the mooring of tankers at the shipyard is only allowed without cargo. The owner said the tanker transports heated bitumen and crude oil, among other substances.

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