Taiwan moves to seize assets of fatal gas blast company

Soldiers and workers clean up a road ripped open by a gas explosion in Kaohsiung on Aug 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Soldiers and workers clean up a road ripped open by a gas explosion in Kaohsiung on Aug 2, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwan's second city moved on Wednesday to seize the assets of the chemical company it holds responsible for deadly gas explosions which killed 30 people and left more than 300 injured.

The Kaohsiung city government blames LCY Chemical Corp. for last Thursday's powerful blasts, which sparked massive fires that tore through the streets of the southern metropolis and threw vehicles onto the roofs of buildings several stories high.

Officials say around 10 tonnes of propene may have leaked from pipelines operated by LCY Chemical in the hours before the first explosion, and on Wednesday asked a court for permission to seize assets worth tens of millions of dollars in order to pay compensation to affected residents.

"To lower the risk of residents in affected areas not getting compensation, we request the court to grant a provisional seizure of LCY Chemical's assets to prevent the company from transferring its assets to avoid paying the compensation," Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu told reporters.

The city government said it sought to seize Tw$1.9 billion (S$79.1 million) from the company - the estimated cost for the reconstruction of the area affected by the blasts, covering 72,300 square metres.

Chen also said chemical companies would be barred from resuming the operation of hazardous underground industrial pipelines in the affected area to ensure public safety.

The legal move came after prosecutors this week raided the offices of LCY Chemical and a distributor contracted by the company to deliver propene from a pier to a chemical plant 20 kilometres away.

The gas was distributed via an LCY Chemical-owned pipeline system beneath the city.

Prosecutors took away documents from the two firms that recorded the shipment of propene, which they said "should be useful in helping clarify the case".

President Ma Ying-jeou has vowed a full investigation into the cause of the accident and a review of the city's gas supply network.

Kaohsiung lies adjacent to a huge petrochemical complex housing dozens of plants, and many pipelines run under the densely-packed city.

The explosions - the most deadly of their kind in Taiwan's history - were the second disaster to strike island in just over a week, after a TransAsia Airways plane crashed with the loss of 48 lives on July 23.

Taiwanese flag flew at half-mast from public buildings for three days from Tuesday to mourn victims of the two disasters.

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