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Indonesia police to charge 2 Chinese nationals in furnace explosion at Chinese-owned nickel plant

PALU, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian police on Monday named two Chinese nationals as suspects in the explosion of a smelting furnace at a Chinese-owned nickel plant on Sulawesi Island that killed 21 workers and injured dozens of others.

Four Chinese and nine Indonesian workers died instantly on Dec. 24 when the furnace at PT Indonesia Tsingshan Stainless Steel, or PT ITSS, exploded while they were repairing it. Eight others died in the following days while being treated at hospitals, bringing the total number of fatalities to 21, including eight workers from China.

The furnace was located inside a nickel processing-based industrial area under the management of PT Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park, known as PT IMIP, in Morowali regency of Central Sulawesi province.

Following their investigation, police have enough evidence to designate the two Chinese nationals, identified only by their initials, ZG and Z, as suspects, said Djoko Wienartono, the Central Sulawesi Police spokesperson.

ZG was the furnace supervisor and Z was his vice supervisor, Wienartono said.

“ZG and Z were the persons in charge of the furnace when the explosion occurred,” Wienartono told a news conference in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, “They have violated the company’s operational standard.”

He said police will bring a criminal charge of negligence leading to death or serious injury. The maximum penalty under the charge is five years in prison.

The police investigation showed that the furnace was under maintenance and not operating at the time of the explosion, which was triggered by fire from “residual slag in the furnace” that flowed out, causing an explosion when the fire came into contact with nearby oxygen cylinders used for welding,