Morowali, Indonesia – December 24, 2023
A tragic incident on Sunday, a furnace explosion at the Morowali Industrial Park in Sulawesi, Indonesia, resulted in the tragic loss of at least 13 lives and left 38 others injured. The factory, owned by Chinese steel and nickel giant Tsingshan, operates under its local arm, Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel (ITSS).
The explosion occurred during maintenance work on a nickel smelter furnace owned by ITSS. According to initial reports, the “blast took place at 5:30 a.m. local time” when workers were repairing the furnace and installing plates. As reported by Reuters, the incident resulted in the loss of nine Indonesian lives and four Chinese lives.
Contrary to earlier reports of an explosion, the incident was clarified as a result of excess iron slag flowing from the furnace during maintenance. The furnace walls collapsed, leading to a fire that caused injuries and fatalities. Workers were harmed by hot steam from stainless steel slag and the ensuing fire.
The fire was successfully extinguished at 9:10 a.m. local time, as confirmed by Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP), the owner of the industrial park where the smelter is situated. IMIP, a nickel-focused industrial park owned by Tsingshan and its local partner BintangDelapan Group, expressed condolences for the lives lost and pledged to cover all treatment costs for the victims.
Nickel, a critical resource for Indonesia, has seen increased global investment after the government’s ban on unprocessed ore exports in 2020. The country aims to develop downstream nickel industries, attracting significant investment from electric vehicle and battery manufacturers. Despite these efforts, the nickel processing industry in Indonesia has witnessed several fatal accidents in recent years.
President JokoWidodo has emphasized the need for safety improvements and environmental standards in the rapidly expanding nickel sector. The tragic incident at the ITSS facility underscores the challenges faced by Indonesia as it seeks to balance industrial growth with safety and environmental concerns.
Videos from the scene show thick black smoke rising from massive fires, illustrating the severity of the incident. Among the victims were eight Indonesians and five Chinese workers.
In the wake of the tragedy, Indonesian politician and labor activist Said Iqbal has called for an investigation by the Indonesian Manpower Ministry. He emphasized that the operator must bear the costs of medical treatment and provide compensation to those affected, advocating for stringent sanctions against any regulatory violations.
As Indonesia continues to play a pivotal role in the global nickel market, the incident serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need for enhanced safety measures and regulatory oversight in the country’s burgeoning industrial landscape.