Director of firm in Tuas explosion set to testify before inquiry committee

Three workers died in the explosion on Feb 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - The director of a company whose workers died in an explosion at their Tuas factory in February is expected to give evidence before an inquiry committee on Thursday (Sept 23).

Mr Chua Xing Da, the sole director and shareholder of Stars Engrg, was also the overall-in-charge of production at the Tuas site.

The explosion happened at about 11.20am on Feb 24 in the workshop situated on the first floor of the building at 32E Tuas Avenue 11.

Eight workers from Stars Engrg were in the unit at the time.

Three of them died shortly after they were taken to hospital, from severe burns that covered 90 per cent of their bodies.

They were Mr Anisuzzaman Md, 29, Mr Subbaiyan Marimuthu, 38, and Mr Shohel Md, 23.

An inquiry into the incident began on Monday, and Mr Chua will be the fifth witness to provide evidence before the committee at the State Courts. The previous four were former and current employees of the fire protection company.

The focus during the first three days of the inquiry was mainly on the lead-up to the blast, with many questions revolving around a mixer machine utilised to make material used in fire protection.

In its opening statement, the State Counsel team led by Ms Kristy Tan invited the committee to consider how the machine was operated and whether the red flags leading up to the blast were ignored and posed risks to the safety of workers.

The workers who have testified shared numerous incidents involving the machine, including smoke emissions, leaks and fires. It caught fire less than three hours before the explosion.

They said Mr Chua was kept informed of these incidents through numerous messages, videos and calls.

One of the workers in the workshop during the explosion, Mr Mehedi, 22, who goes by one name, told the committee on Tuesday of how his body had been on fire and his clothes had burned off.

On Wednesday, two more employees of Stars Engrg gave their statements before the committee, which was chaired by Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun.

They were Mr Molla Mohammad Nasim, 36, a welder, and Mr Pandi Muruganantham, a project manager, whose age was not revealed.

Mr Molla Mohammad Nasim (left) and Mr Pandi Muruganantham gave their statements before the committee on Sept 22, 2021. ST PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG

On Wednesday, Mr Nasim was asked about the welding he did on the machine as instructed by Mr Chua.

A report by investigators, with images magnified some 500 times, found cracks and voids in his welds.

He said he felt his welds were done properly at the time, but that this assessment was based on his view of the surface of the welds, since he had no machine with which to check the inside of his work.

Mr Chua had instructed him to weld an additional base plate on the machine after other workers reported oil leaks.

Mr Muruganantham testified that he was not in charge of the operations at the Tuas workshop but managed the number of workers deployed to the site.

He added that he answered to Mr Chua and his brother, Mr Desmond Chua, who was the general manager.

The first tranche of hearings will last till Oct 8, while the second tranche is expected to be from Nov 15 to 19.

Other witnesses expected to present their statements in the coming days include the other workers who were injured, as well as investigators from the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Ministry of Manpower.

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