Explosion at Indonesia nickel plant kills at least 13 workers

At least 13 workers of a nickel plant were killed and 46 others sustained injuries after a smelting furnace exploded at a Chinese-owned factory in Indonesia.

Four Chinese workers were among those killed when the plant’s furnace exploded while they were repairing on Sunday in Sulawesi island.

The intensity of the blast was so high that it demolished the furnace and damaged parts of the side walls of the building, said Central Sulawesi police chief Agus Nugroho.

About 38 workers were rushed to the hospital, some in critical condition, he added.

It was the latest in a series of accidents at nickel smelting plants in Indonesia that have been part of China’s ambitious transnational development programme — the Belt and Road Initiative.

Nickel is a key component in global battery production for electric vehicles.

Indonesian authorities were investigating to determine whether negligence by the company led to the deaths.

The accident took place at PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, a subsidiary of PT Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park, known as PT IMIP, in the Bahodopi area of Morowali regency.

A police officer stands guard near the site where a furnace explosion occurred at PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel smelting plant in Morowali, Central Sulawesi


The Tsingshan Holding Group is the world’s biggest nickel producer and China’s biggest stainless steelmaker.

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

The company said it would cover the cost of treatment for the injured workers.

Rescuers extinguished the fire and evacuated workers after a nearly four-hour operation, he added.

A worker at the industrial complex told AFP news agency that the victims’ faces “were burnt” and their “clothes were all burnt”.

A preliminary investigation showed there were explosive liquids at the bottom of the furnace that triggered a fire and explosion in nearby oxygen cylinders.

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

Two workers, including a Chinese national, were killed at a nickel smelting plant in the same industrial park after a riot between workers and security guards broke out during a protest over safety conditions and pay.

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

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

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

Additional reporting by agencies