Blasts that rocked petrochemical plant in France believed to be result of malicious act

Smoke billows from a petrochemical plant operated by LyondellBasell in Berre-l'Etang near Marseille in southern France on July 14, 2015.
Smoke billows from a petrochemical plant operated by LyondellBasell in Berre-l'Etang near Marseille in southern France on July 14, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Two explosions that started fires at a petrochemical plant in southern France early on Tuesday are believed to have been the result of a "malicious act", sources said.

Police said no one was injured in the explosions that happened in Berre-l'Etang near Marseille-Marignane airport at 3am.

"Two tanks 500m apart that are full of chemical products are affected (by the explosions)," said a source close to the case, who wished to remain anonymous.

A thick cloud of smoke emanating from the plant, which is operated by chemical firm LyondellBasell, was visible several kilometres away.

The company said the fire in one tank had already been put out while the blaze in the second vat was in the process of being extinguished.

One tank contains petrol, while another vat contains naphtha, a flammable liquid distilled from petroleum.

"A malicious act is a serious hypothesis," said the source.

"The probability that these two fires in tanks 500m apart could be accidental is very low. Investigators are leaning towards the theory of a voluntary act," another informed source said.

Police, gas masks hanging around their neck, set up road blocks to stop anyone from getting near the site, and more than 100 firemen were at the scene.