Nickel Plant Explosion Kills 13 Lives in Indonesia

On December 24, 2023, an explosion at nickel plant in Indonesia’s Sulawesi island resulted in the loss of 13 lives and left dozens injured. The plant, known as PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, is situated in the Morowali Industrial Park and is a subsidiary of PT Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (PT IMIP).

Nickel Plant Explosion Kills 13 Lives in Indonesia

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This explosion is the third deadly incident this year at Chinese-owned nickel smelting plants in Central Sulawesi province.

Nickel Plant has seen a surge in demand, making Indonesia, with its vast nickel reserves, a key player in the industry.

The Chinese-backed projects, part of the Belt and Road Initiative, have contributed to Indonesia’s nickel production.

However, this growth has been accompanied by a series of fatal accidents, prompting investigations into the safety practices of these industrial facilities.

The explosion occurred during repair work on a furnace, leading to a blast that not only demolished the furnace but also damaged parts of the building.

Thirteen workers, comprising both Chinese and Indonesian nationals, lost their lives in the incident, with around 46 others injured, some critical.

Initial investigations suggest that explosive liquids at the bottom of the furnace triggered a fire, followed by an explosion in nearby oxygen cylinders.

Authorities are investigating whether negligence on the part of the company, PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, played a role in the incident.

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This is the third deadly incident this year in Central Sulawesi province, contributing to a growing concern regarding the safety standards and practices at Chinese-owned nickel smelting plants.

Previous incidents involved fatalities in a collapse at a nickel plant waste disposal site and riots at an Indonesia-China joint venture.

Deddy Kurniawan, a spokesperson for PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, expressed the company’s sincere apologies for the incident.

The company is collaborating with authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the root cause of the explosion.

The response also includes an assurance that the company will cover the treatment costs for the victims and cooperate fully with ongoing investigations.

The explosion adds to a growing list of safety concerns by workers at PT IMIP. Earlier this year, three Chinese workers lodged a complaint with Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights, citing deteriorating health due to dust and smoke exposure.

They also highlighted the absence of adequate safety equipment and the grueling work schedule of seven-day workweeks without breaks.

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Additionally, data from the Mining Advocacy Network reveals that at least 22 workers from China and Indonesia have lost their lives in nickel smelting plants in Central Sulawesi province since 2019.

PT IMIP, the parent company overseeing PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, has nearly half of its shares owned by a Chinese holding company, with the remaining shares held by two Indonesian companies.

The industrial park started its smelter operations in 2013 and has since become the largest nickel-based industrial area in Indonesia.

The Belt and Road Initiative, China’s transnational development program, has facilitated Chinese involvement in Indonesia’s nickel industry.

As an exporter of nickel, Indonesia plays a role in the global supply chain for electric vehicle batteries and stainless steel.

The explosion at PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel follows two incidents earlier in the year. In April, two dump truck operators lost their lives in a collapse at a nickel waste disposal site.

In January, riots erupted at an Indonesia-China joint venture in North Morowali regency, resulting in the deaths of two workers, including a Chinese national.

The Indonesian government has expressed its commitment to conducting a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the explosion.

The Ministry of Manpower will deploy a team to investigate the accident, with a focus on operations of PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel.

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