Nickel plant explosion in Indonesia sparks safety questions

The casualties included nine Indonesian workers and four Chinese workers, with the injured primarily suffering from exposure to hot steam.

In Indonesia, tragedy struck on Sunday as a Chinese-funded nickel-processing plant, crucial for electric vehicle batteries and stainless steel production, experienced a devastating explosion. The incident, which occurred at the Morowali Industrial Park on Sulawesi, claimed the lives of at least 13 individuals, with 46 others sustaining injuries.

Owned by PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, a pivotal hub for Indonesia’s nickel production on the island of Sulawesi, the plant became the epicentre of the catastrophe around 5:30 am during furnace repair work, leading to a series of explosions, including nearby oxygen tanks. Emergency services responded, managing to extinguish the ensuing fire by Sunday morning. Beyond the immediate human toll, the incident raises significant concerns about safety standards within the nickel industry, prompting a crucial reevaluation of precautionary measures to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Sulawesi’s strategic importance in nickel production, a crucial component for electric vehicle batteries and stainless steel, intensifies the impact of this industrial disaster. The explosion took place during repair work on a furnace. It was triggered when a flammable liquid ignited, causing a subsequent blast that led nearby oxygen tanks to explode.

The casualties included nine Indonesian workers and four Chinese workers, with the injured primarily suffering from exposure to hot steam. The aftermath was marked by emergency response efforts and the extinguishing of the resulting fire on Sunday morning, as detailed in a statement by the complex’s spokesperson.

The Morowali Industrial Park expressed deep sorrow over the incident, emphasizing concern for the affected families. The remains of identified victims have been returned. Footage shared with AFP depicted plumes of smoke billowing from the facility, underscoring the severity of the incident. The poignant image of victims’ bodies lined up on orange body bags in a clinic at the industrial complex encapsulates the grim aftermath of the tragedy.

Operated by PT Gunbuster Nickel Industry (GNI), a local unit of China’s Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry, the facility has been marred by previous safety issues. In January, a riot during a protest over safety conditions and pay led to the death of two workers, including a Chinese national. Additionally, a fire at the same plant in June resulted in one fatality and six injuries, indicating a troubling pattern of incidents.