The impact of the “world coming to an end” explosion at a Petronas Integrated Complex (PIC) in Pengerang, Johor, was apparently caused by a hydrogen pipeline burst, according to site contractors.
It occurred in the early hours of Friday (April 12) and shockwaves, and the reverberating explosion were felt, and heard in Singapore.
Petronas has still not confirmed what was the cause of the explosion. A media query to Petronas on the hydrogen pipe burst has been posed and is awaiting a reply.
However, investigations by local authorities — including environment, safety and other agencies — are in progress.
Some people living in the outlying areas of the complex felt tremors, vibrations and thought it was an earthquake, or tsunami in the making.
It was reported that the deafening explosion was expressed as the “world coming to an end” on the front page of The Star on Saturday.
Singapore’s netizens on the page one news portal Reddit reported hearing a “loud boom” and rattling windows in areas including Pasir Ris, and Punggol, in the eastern part of Singapore.
According to social media posts, the blast was loud enough to be heard within a 50km radius of the project.
Meanwhile, residents staying between five and ten kilometers of the explosion site described the thundering sound as “We thought the world was coming to an end”.
They are victims of shattered windows, ceilings falling and damage to their property. About 90 police reports have been made to claim compensation to the damage of property.
It’s unfortunate that Johor residents had three weeks ago grappled with the Sungai Kim Kim river pollution which had actually polluted the area for more than 10 years, but none of the authorities had lifted a finger to stop it, media reports stated.
Now, Petronas has to clarify whether it was a highly inflammable hydrogen or gas pipe that burst at the Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (RAPID) project in Pengerang at 1.25am on Friday.
If the authorities fail to investigate the fire that lasted for more than 30 minutes at a highly lethal plant, then Johoreans and Malaysians are sitting on a “minefield” that can cause more explosions, and fire.
Johor Exco member S.Ramakrishnan whose portfolio covers the safety of workers in the state called on the various government agencies like the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) and environmental agencies to investigate the explosion incident thoroughly.
“My concern is for the safety of all workers on the site and residents living in the state. As the RAPID is a high-tech project supervised and built by foreign firms it is crucial that they are recalled and with the Malaysian authorities to do a safety audit for the wellbeing of all workers.
“We cannot take this lightly after the Sungai Kim Kim crisis and disaster it had caused when the authorities failed to act in the past over the years.
“It is of serious concern because according to news, shockwaves from the blast were felt by residents on the eastern side of the island, with users on news aggregator Reddit’s Singapore page discussing the incident early on Friday morning.”
Malaysian safety related firms, he said, may not have the expertise to inspect, check and audit the highly sophisticated RAPID project.
On March 22, an explosion at a pesticide plant in eastern China killed 47 people and injured more than 600. The cause of the explosion was under investigation, but the company – which produces more than 30 organic chemical compounds, some of which are highly flammable – had been cited and fined for work safety violations in the past, the China Daily said.
Petronas workers who are currently residing outside the facility have expressed concern to their families that they are expected to return to stay at temporary quarters built for the project construction workers.
Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said expressed shock over the fire and explosion incident in a statement to Bernama.
She was thankful, however, that the situation was under control and investigations were being conducted to find out the exact cause.
“Employees and workplace safety issues should always be prioritised, and I would like to thank Petronas for their prompt action in managing such an incident.”
One worker living outside the complex when interviewed, said: “I dread the day when I will be told to return to stay on the RAPID site. I pray our bosses will be kind to us and not place us in any danger of having to stay in temporary quarters built for construction workers.”
An estimated 3,000 workers are expected to be moved back to the temporary quarters which are already experiencing soil settlement problems and floors, and pavements are sinking.
Ramakrishnan said workers’ safety should be the top priority of Petronas as the RAPID site processes highly inflammable petroleum and its product-related plant./TISG
M.Krishnamoorthy is a freelance journalist and has been a local producer for CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Australian TV networks. He has also freelanced for New York Times, TIME, Sydney Morning Herald and worked for the The Star and New Straits for 25 years. He is the author of six books and his latest May 9 — People Power Saves Malaysia — Mahathir Leads the Way, was the bestseller for five months last year following the GE 14 in Malaysia.
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