Furnace explosion at Chinese-owned nickel plant in Indonesia kills 13


An explosion at a Chinese-owned nickel plant on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi killed 13 workers and injured dozens more on Sunday, according to police and a company official.


It was the latest in a series of fatal accidents at nickel smelting plants in Indonesia that are part of China’s ambitious transnational development program known as Belt and Road Initiative.

Nickel is a key component in the global production of electric vehicle batteries.

At least four Chinese and nine Indonesian workers died when the furnace exploded while they were repairing it, Central Sulawesi police chief Agus Nugroho said.

The explosion was so powerful that it demolished the furnace and damaged parts of the building’s side walls, Nugroho said, adding that about 46 workers were injured, including four Chinese nationals, some in critical condition.

Authorities are working to determine whether negligence on the part of the company led to the death, Nugroho said.

The third fatal accident this year

The accident occurred at PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, a branch of PT Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park, known as PT IMIP, in Bahodopi neighborhood of Morowali regency.

“We sincerely apologize for this incident and are working closely with authorities to investigate what caused the incident,” company spokesperson Deddy Kurniawan said.

Rescuers put out the fire and evacuated workers after an operation that lasted nearly four hours, he added.

Initial investigations revealed that there were explosive liquids at the bottom of the oven which triggered a fire and then a subsequent explosion in the nearby oxygen cylinders.

It was the third fatal accident this year at Chinese-owned nickel smelting plants in Central Sulawesi province, which has Indonesia’s largest nickel reserves.

Two dump truck operators were killed when they were hit by a wall of black mud-like material following the collapse of a nickel waste disposal site in April.

In January, two workers, including a Chinese national, were killed in clashes involving workers and security guards at an Indonesia-China joint venture in North Morowali Regency.

Health and safety concerns

Last year, a loader truck hit and killed a Chinese worker while he was repairing a road in PT IMIP’s mining area, and an Indonesian man was burned to death when a furnace exploded at the company’s factory.

Nearly half of PT IMIP’s shares are owned by a Chinese holding company, while the rest are owned by two Indonesian companies. It began smelter operations in 2013 and is now the largest nickel-based industrial area in Indonesia.

Three Chinese workers filed a complaint with Indonesia’s National Human Rights Commission in March, alleging that their health is deteriorating due to exposure to dust and smoke while working seven working days without breaks at PT IMIP. They added that workers do not have adequate safety equipment.

Data collected by the Mining Advocacy Network, an Indonesian watchdog, showed that at least 22 workers from China and Indonesia have died at nickel smelting plants in Central Sulawesi province since 2019, including two Chinese nationals who they committed suicide.

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