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Deadly Explosion at Indonesia Nickel Smelter Furnace Raises Safety Concerns

Published December 25, 2023
7 months ago

The Indonesian nickel industry was marred by a severe tragedy when a furnace explosion at a smelter owned by Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel (ITSS) claimed the lives of thirteen workers and left thirty-eight others with injuries. The incident occurred during the early hours of Sunday at the Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP) on Sulawesi Island, a hub of nickel processing activity owned in partnership with China’s Tsingshan Group and the local Bintang Delapan Group.


The fatal mishap unfolded as workers were repairing and installing plates on the furnace around 5:30 am local time (2130 GMT Saturday). The casualties included seven Indonesian nationals and six Chinese workers, as reported by IMIP. Approximately three-and-a-half hours later, the resulting fire was extinguished.


An IMIP spokesperson attributed the initial explosion to what is suspected to have been explosive liquid residue at the furnace's base. Additionally, the concentration of oxygen cylinders at the site, utilized for welding and cutting during the repairs, exacerbated the severity of the incident as they triggered multiple subsequent blasts.


The nickel industry is a prominent sector in Indonesia, notably since the government's 2020 prohibition on exports of unprocessed ore, which has attracted substantial global investment. Efforts to expand the downstream nickel industries aim to cement Indonesia's position as an inviting destination for electric vehicle and battery manufacturers. Nonetheless, this ambition has been tainted by a series of fatal accidents, spotlighting deficiencies in workplace safety and oversight.


As Indonesia grapples with the implications of such industrial risks, IMIP has vowed to work in tandem with relevant entities to thoroughly probe into the blast. Moreover, the company has pledged to bear the medical expenses for the injured. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, while supportive of the industry’s growth, has voiced concerns about safety and environmental protocols, advocating for stronger regulation and monitoring.


As the nickel sector forges ahead as a cornerstone of the Indonesian economy, stakeholders across the board are reminded of the critical need for stringent adherence to safety standards. The latest catastrophe serves as a sobering prompt that industrial progress must not come at the expense of human lives and well-being.



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