Flammable gas, glass lamps caused STX O&S blast, says pathologist

Four people were killed in an explosion at STX O&S shipyard on 20 August. Credit: STX O&S

Contact between flammable gas and lamps made from glass that were not explosion-proof caused the fatal blast at South Korea's STX Offshore & Shipbuilding (STX O&S) on 20 August.

South Korea's National Forensic Service announced its findings at a press briefing on 12 September, just days after the Korea Coast Guard's probe found that the cash-strapped STX O&S had cut costs by using lamps made from ordinary glass. These lamps were placed inside vessels that were under construction.

According to the coastguard officials, the price of explosion-proof glass ranges from KRW36,000 (USD31.70) to KRW54,000 per tonne, at least double that of ordinary glass, which is priced at about KRW18,000.

Four men were killed while they were painting the interior of a tank of the Persepolis, a 74,000 dwt product tanker slated for delivery to Andriaki Shipping in October.

The National Forensic Service's pathologists explained, "Vapour from some sprays came into contact with the hot glass surface of the lamps, causing the ignition. There were four lamps and all of these were not explosion-proof."

The pathologists' investigations also showed that the tank where the blast happened is an enclosed space, making it highly vulnerable to explosions.

STX O&S should have assessed the safety of the tank before allowing workers into the space, in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Geumsan Enterprise, the subcontractor that employed the men, did not measure the amount of gas or vapour in the space prior to the start of work that day.

Since November 2015 STX O&S, which has been undergoing debt restructuring since 2013, had not been inspecting and calibrating its gas meters.

There had been speculation that STX O&S’ poor financial situation had caused the shipbuilder to stint on safety measures, resulting in protests from union officials.

Despite being released from receivership, STX O&S is still restructuring under its creditors’ guidance.

Also, on 6 September, an STX O&S staff was charged with destroying evidence relating to the blast.

South Korean media reports stated that 16 people, including STX O&S CEO Shin Jae-ho, three staff from Geumsan Enterprise, and the CEO of another of STX O&S' subcontractors, would face various charges over the incident.

Contact Xiaolin Zeng at arachelle0@gmail.com

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