An explosion at a Chinese-owned nickel smelting plant on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi on 24 December has killed at least 19 people, and injured dozens more. The incident appears to be the latest in a series of safety failings in the area.

According to local media reports, the deadly incident at the nickel smelter complex in Indonesia happened when workers were fixing a furnace at a plant owned by PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, which is controlled by the Chinese Tsingshan Holding Group, in the Morowali Industrial Park in Sulawesi.

Police have halted the plant’s operations while an investigation into the incident is carried out.

A crowd gathered around a pick up truck of protesters with flags and a microphone in Indonesia

Source: © STR/AFP/Getty Images

Morowali Industrial Park workers protest against their working conditions outside the facility in Bungku, South Sulawesi, on December 27, 2023, after at least 19 people were killed by an explosion at the PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel plant

A spokesman for the industrial park told Benar News that initial investigations indicate that molten metal residue escaped out of the smelter’s furnace and made contact with flammable materials, causing a furnace wall to collapse and triggering the initial fire. Benar reports that between 2019 to 2023, more than 30 workers died at two nickel plants with majority Chinese ownership in the Morowali and North Morowali regencies of Sulawesi.

Following the deadly explosion, around 100 workers joined in a protest at the site of the incident, demanding that all of the smelters in the industrial park to be halted until a full investigation into the explosion has been conducted. They also called for better maintenance of the smelters, enhanced health clinics that can address emergencies, and a requirement that Chinese workers learn the Indonesian language.

Sulawesi island contains Indonesia’s largest reserves of nickel, with the country being one of the world’s largest producers of the metal. According to the Associated Press, December’s explosion represented the third fatal accident to occur at Chinese-owned nickel smelting plants in Sulawesi in 2023.