Explosion at Chinese-Owned Nickel Smelting Plant in Indonesia Claims 19 Lives, Prompts Worker Protest

SULAWESI, INDONESIA – An explosion at a nickel smelting plant in the Morowali Industrial Park on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has resulted in the deaths of at least 19 people and left dozens injured. The incident, which occurred at a plant owned by PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, is the latest in a series of safety failings in the area. This marks the third fatal accident to occur at Chinese-owned nickel smelting plants in Sulawesi in 2023, according to the Associated Press.

Local media reports indicate that the explosion happened while workers were fixing a furnace at the facility, which is controlled by the Chinese Tsingshan Holding Group. Initial investigations suggest that molten metal residue escaped from the smelter’s furnace, leading to a collapse of the furnace wall and triggering the initial fire. This incident follows a series of fatalities at two nickel plants with majority Chinese ownership in the Morowali and North Morowali regencies of Sulawesi.

As a result of the deadly explosion, approximately 100 workers staged a protest at the site, calling for the halting of all smelters in the industrial park until a full investigation into the explosion has been conducted. They also demanded better maintenance of the smelters, improved health clinics to address emergencies, and a requirement for Chinese workers to learn the Indonesian language. The spokesman for the industrial park told Benar News that police have halted the plant’s operations while an investigation is carried out.

Sulawesi island contains Indonesia’s largest reserves of nickel, with the country being one of the world’s largest producers of the metal. The deadly incident has raised concerns about safety standards and oversight at Chinese-owned industrial facilities in Indonesia. The explosion represents a troubling pattern of safety failings in the area and has sparked demands for greater accountability and safety measures to prevent future tragedies.