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Nickel smelter explosion claims 13 lives, injures 46 on Sulawesi Island

A devastating explosion at an ITSS-owned nickel smelter in Sulawesi claimed 13 lives and injured 46 on Sunday.

Disturbingly, Central Sulawesi has witnessed at least 22 worker fatalities in similar nickel smelting accidents since 2019, per Mining Advocacy Network data.

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INDONESIA: A tragic explosion at a nickel smelter furnace owned by Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel (ITSS) on Sulawesi Island resulted in the loss of at least 13 lives and left 46 individuals injured on Sunday (24 Dec).

The smelter, situated within the PT Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP) in Morowali Regency, Central Sulawesi, has unfortunately experienced similar incidents in the past.

The local authorities, including personnel from the Bahodopi Police Substation, promptly responded to the explosion to assess the situation.

“Bahodopi Police Substation personnel came to the scene to understand the situation and conditions after the explosion occurred,” stated Abdul Hamid, the Public Relations Officer of Morowali Police, on Sunday (24 Dec).

The incident took place around 5:30 AM local time. Head of the Media Relations Division at PT IMIP, Dedy Kurniawan, stated that the incident began when several workers were repairing furnace No.41 for maintenance.

The workers were installing plates on the furnace.

During the repairs, it was discovered that there were residual slags or rocky waste materials at the bottom of the furnace, separated from the metal during ore smelting or refining.

These slags came into contact with easily flammable items at the location.

“The cause of the explosion is presumed to be the presence of a triggering liquid at the bottom of the furnace during the repair process. The explosion occurred afterward,” said Dedy Kurniawan in his statement on Sunday.

In the smelter area, there were several oxygen cylinders, and during the explosion, these cylinders also detonated.

“There are many oxygen cylinders in the location used for welding and cutting furnace components. Thus, the initial explosion triggered several oxygen cylinders in the surrounding area to explode,” he explained.

Latest developments confirm 13 fatalities—5 workers from China and 8 from Indonesia, stated Dedy in his written statement on Sunday. The injured victims mostly suffered burn injuries due to exposure to hot steam.

Following the accident, Dedy stated that on-site rescue efforts were immediately carried out by PT IMIP’s team, forming an accident and impact response team.

“PT IMIP management has also borne all the costs of post-accident treatment, including emotional support to the families of the victims and accident analysis,” he explained.

Authorities are actively investigating the explosion in collaboration with the company to comprehensively understand the circumstances leading to this devastating event.

This incident once again raises serious concerns about worker safety within the industry and emphasizes the urgent need for stricter regulations and effective sanctions.

Disturbingly, this is not the first such accident in Central Sulawesi, as data from the Mining Advocacy Network indicates that since 2019, at least 22 workers from China and Indonesia have lost their lives in nickel smelting plants.

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lemme guess. they didn’t wait for it to cool down completely before starting repairs? either that or the oxygen tanks leaks. i doubt it’s an “accident”. cheapo oxygen tanks don’t pass regulation or as i’ve said they never wait until furnace cooled down.

Made in China …malfunctioning.

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