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Private firm claims exploded pipes managed by state-run oil company

2014/08/03 19:30:29

Taipei, Aug. 3 (CNA) The private petrochemical firm whose propylene pipelines are believed to be behind the explosions in Kaohsiung that left dozens dead has pointed its finger on the state-run oil company -- CPC Corp., Taiwan -- which it says was responsible for designing and checking the pipes.

Chiu Yuan-yuan, deputy general manager of LCY Chemical Corp., which has been under pressure to explain why its propylene pipes exploded late Thursday, said Sunday her company is not shirking responsibility but rather is simply pointing out the facts.

"The fact is that the pipelines suspected of causing multiple explosions have been designed by CPC Corp., Taiwan, which is also responsible for regularly checking the pipelines," she said.

Chang Jui-tsung, a spokesman for CPC Corp., Taiwan said however his company does not have a maintenance contract with LCY Chemical.

The pipelines and the right to use them belong to LCY, according to Chang.

LCY's Chiu was making her remarks at a press conference at the Taiwan Stock Exchange in Taipei, where LCY issued a statement to explain why its chairman, Lee Bowei, made the company's first open apology that day.

"The apology was an expression of regret over the pains suffered by the victims, the injured and their families, and absolutely was not an admission that the disaster-causing pipelines have anything to do with LCY," said the statement.

As the same time the statement was released in Taipei, Lee gave a press briefing in which he bowed in apology to the public on behalf of his company.

"We will never dodge the responsibility we owe, and I want to emphasize that we have never hidden anything," Lee said, adding: "More than anyone else, I myself want to know the real causes for the incident."

As prosecutors have launched an investigation into the city's worst petrochemical disaster ever, Lee said he could not divulge any findings of the investigation.

During his five-minute press briefing, Lee made no attempt to explain a question the media was eager to ask: why did his staff not inform Kaohsiung's Environmental Protection Bureau immediately after reports that the company's propylene pipelines were leaking?

As to why his company did not feel that abnormal pressure levels might indicate a leak, the chairman and CEO said such an assessment is the responsibility of China General Terminal & Distribution Corp., which transports LCY's petrochemicals through the pipes.

LCY spokesperson Pan Li-lin said staff first detected an abnormal flow when its propylene supply suddenly fell to zero at 8:49 p.m that fatal day. But 30 minutes later the flow returned to normal, so the staff resumed transporting the gas at 10:10 p.m.

Another problem occurred at 10:35 p.m., and transporting was immediately suspended, according to Pan.

Pan's statement did not agree with the city's top environment official, Chen Chin-der, who said his bureau had found that abnormal channeling of propylene in the piping system began at around 8:00 p.m. Chen said 3.77 metric tons of the gas leaked between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.

"The company did not shut down the pipe system until 11:40 p.m.," Chen told CNA. The first explosion occurred roughly 16 minutes later.

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu (no relation) said Sunday now is not the time for assigning the blame. "Ensuring safety and disaster relief are our top priority right now," she said, promising that when the time comes to pin responsibilities, she will not try to pass the buck.

The blasts late Thursday killed 28 and injured another 300 when 6 km of pipelines in Kaohsiung's Cianjhen and Lingya districts suddenly exploded.

(By Wang Shu-fen, Cheng Che-fon, Chang Liang-chih, Pan Chih-yi and
S.C. Chang)