China punishes 48 people over deadly Sinopec blast

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China has punished 48 people, including the chairman of Asia's top refiner, for one of the country's worst industrial disasters last year that killed 62 people, state news agency Xinhua said on Friday.

The blast at the eastern oil hub of Qingdao in November was China Petroleum & Chemical Corp's (Sinopec) deadliest known accident.

China's cabinet, or State Council, has agreed to "discipline" 48 people, including Sinopec Chairman Fu Chengyu and the mayor of Qingdao, Zhang Xinchao, over the oil pipeline explosion, according to Xinhua's microblog.

Fifteen people, who are suspected of crimes, have had their cases transferred to judicial authorities, Xinhua said.

The explosion at the Dongying-Huangdao II pipeline owned by Sinopec was attributed to pipeline corrosion, irregular work practices and a tangled network of underground pipes, an inspector with China's safety watchdog said on Thursday.

The blast injured 136 people and caused direct economic losses of 750 million yuan (S$954 million). Many of the dead were workers who were trying to repair a leak.

During a visit to the scene in November, Sinopec Chairman Fu apologised to the people of Qingdao, where the explosion stirred anger as residents had not been warned of danger even though the leak was discovered almost eight hours before the blast, state media say.

The move to punish Sinopec comes as authorities scrutinise possible corruption at China's leading oil companies. The former head of China National Petroleum Company, Mr Jiang Jiemin, and other senior officials at PetroChina were placed under investigation last year.

China has uncovered nearly 20,000 disaster risks in its oil and gas sector nationwide during a safety probe, the country's safety watchdog said.

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