Indonesian police question factory owner, staff after blaze that killed 47 people

Two explosions and a fire at a fireworks factory in the western outskirts of Indonesia's capital has killed at least 47 people and injured dozens others on Thursday.
Indonesian police officers checking the dead bodies after the explosion at the fireworks factory.
Indonesian police officers checking the dead bodies after the explosion at the fireworks factory.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (AFP, REUTERS) - The owner of an Indonesian fireworks factory where 47 people died after a blaze tore through the building is being questioned, police said on Friday (Oct 27), as labour organisations said the incident has exposed inadequate workplace safety standards.

The ferocious fire at the factory outside Jakarta was one of Indonesia’s worst industrial accidents in recent memory – triggering explosions and sending plumes of black smoke into the air.

Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono said investigators were still scouring the burnt-out scene and had begun interviewing witnesses, including three staff members and the owner.

“When the incident happened the owner was in Malaysia, but he immediately returned upon hearing and he has been questioned,” spokesman Yuwono said.

Police said there were 103 workers employed at the factory at the time of the disaster and confirmed 47 people had been killed, while 46 people were being treated in hospital. Three people did not attend work on Thursday and seven are still unaccounted for.

Dozens of anxious family members gathered outside a police hospital in Kramat Jati, in east Jakarta, waiting to identify relatives’ bodies. Many of them were crying and carrying photos of loved ones.

“I was working on a construction site near the factory when I heard the explosion yesterday,” Mr Dai, who like many Indonesians only goes by one name, told AFP.

“I was shocked because people told me it came from my daughter’s factory so I ran there, but my daughter was already dead.” .

Mr Yudi Firmansyah, a Tangerang General Hospital spokesman, said it was treating 12 patients, some of whom were suffering burns between 40 to 80 per cent of their bodies.

"We're an emergency unit so we've seen things before. But this is a special case because...it was a mass event. There have been a lot of patients to handle," said Mr Yudi.

Hospital records seen by Reuters showed two of the patients were aged 15 and 16.

"We are expecting treatment to take a long time. First there's the life saving stage, then further treatment to prevent infections, and cosmetic procedures. It's hard to say but it can take several procedures, months," added Mr Yudi.

Authorities have not yet said how the fire started, but have confirmed it began near the front door and quickly spread.

Many charred corpses were found clustered at the back of the factory, police said, indicating there may have been a panicked rush to flee the flames.

Local residents and police knocked down part of the wall of the factory compound, allowing workers to escape.

Indonesia’s Manpower Ministry has established a team to investigate the disaster, including reports minors were working at the factory.

 

“We will be focusing on whether or not the company has complied with the work safety norms and we will find out why this work incident happened,” Mr Sugeng Priyanto, director general of work safety at the ministry, told Metro TV.

The factory – part of an industrial complex in Tangerang that borders a residential area – had all the necessary permits, according to police.

There were some narrow escapes at the factory, staffed mainly by young women paid about US$3 (S$4.11) a day. 

Ms Fitri, 18, told Kompas media she survived by submerging herself in a large tub of water used to clean equipment, along with four workers. 

“If we stay here, we won’t be safe,” she eventually told her friends, before climbing a 3-metre wall beside the tub and breaking through the roof. Then residents used a ladder to help her descend.

Deadly fires are not uncommon in Indonesia, a sprawling country of more than 250 million people where safety regulations are often flouted.

Mr Priyanto admitted safety awareness was “very low” among companies and their employees.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) said Indonesia needed to increase the number of labour inspectors, which was fewer than 2000, and raise safety awareness among workers.

“People do not pay enough attention unless such accidents of this scale happen,” Ms Michiko Miyamoto, ILO country director for Indonesia and Timor-Leste, told AFP.

NGO Lion Indonesia criticised Indonesia’s lax auditing system and said the business must face strict penalties if found to have violated safety regulations.