Over the weekend, the death toll from a fire at an Indonesia nickel smelter fire increased to 18 as of Tuesday, with dozens still undergoing treatment in the hospital, according to local police. Operations at the smelter remain suspended as authorities delve into the cause of the incident.
Morowali police chief Suprianto informed AFP that the number of fatalities rose by five people, bringing the total to 18. The tragic event occurred on Saturday morning while workers were conducting repairs on a furnace at a facility owned by PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel (ITSS) on Sulawesi Island, a unit of China’s Tsingshan Holding Group. The fire was successfully extinguished later that day.
An initial investigation revealed that the Indonesia nickel smelter fire occurred when residual slag from the furnace, closed for maintenance, spilled out and came into contact with flammable materials in the vicinity. ITSS operates as a tenant in the industrial park, majority-owned by Tsingshan, in collaboration with local partner Bintang Delapan. Sulawesi Island is a vital hub for the country’s nickel production, a key base metal used in electric vehicle batteries and stainless steel.
Indonesia, being the world’s largest nickel producer, has imposed a ban on unprocessed nickel ore exports while encouraging substantial investments in smelting and processing. Despite these efforts, the sector has witnessed several fatal accidents in recent years. President Joko Widodo, recognizing nickel processing as a priority for economic development, has emphasized the need for enhanced safety measures and stricter monitoring of environmental standards.
Djoko Wienartono, a spokesperson for Central Sulawesi police, mentioned on Tuesday that the victims included eight foreign workers. The police are still investigating the cause of the fire. China’s foreign ministry stated on Tuesday that the initial 13 confirmed dead included four Chinese nationals.
In January, a nickel smelting plant in the same industrial park witnessed the death of two workers, including a Chinese national, during a riot that erupted amid a protest over safety conditions and pay.