Tuas blast inquiry: Engineer grilled on why he deleted messages, picture

Mr Lwin Moe Tun was grilled on why he chose to delete a picture and two messages sent between him and a worker who died in the Tuas blast. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - The project engineer of a fire protection company whose workers were killed in a blast on its premises was grilled on Thursday (Sept 30) over why he chose to delete a picture and two messages sent between him and a worker who died.

Mr Lwin Moe Tun, who works for Stars Engrg, deleted the exchange on both his phone and that belonging to Mr Subbaiyan Marimuthu, an inquiry committee looking into the incident heard.

After a small fire broke out on a mixer machine on Feb 24, the morning of the explosion, Mr Marimuthu, 38, had sent Mr Lwin Moe Tun a photo at 11.13am of the damaged heater still on the machine with green tape around its wiring.

Mr Lwin Moe Tun, 31, sent back a message at 11.32am that read: "Ok let me know ASAP." A second, sent at 12.09pm, contained an expletive. He deleted both these messages.

The Myanmar national had testified in his first appearance before the inquiry committee on Wednesday that when he received the photo, he thought that Mr Marimuthu was going to check the "connectivity of the damaged heater with the wiring taped together".

State Counsel Kristy Tan put it to Mr Lwin Moe Tun, a Myanmar national, that he deleted these messages because he knew workers were checking if the damaged heater could still be used.

"You felt guilty for not having stopped them, and that's why you deleted (the messages) to cover up for the fact that you didn't stop them," State Counsel Tan told the inquiry committee.

Mr Lwin Moe Tun disagreed.

Following the blast at about 11.20am at the workshop at 32E Tuas Avenue 11, three workers, Mr Marimuthu and two co-workers, Mr Anisuzzaman Md, 29, and Mr Shohel Md, 23, died from severe burns to 90 per cent of their bodies, while seven other workers were injured.

Stars Engrg made an insulation material called fire wrap using the mixer machine. The machine heated up oil in a jacket, which then heated ingredients including potato starch in the mixer component.

The explosion is believed to have been caused by the aerosols from the oil igniting.

When the counsel for Stars Engrg, Mr Thong Chee Kun, asked Mr Lwin Moe Tun on Thursday why he had deleted the messages, the engineer told the inquiry committee he had panicked and was afraid he was the last person to have contacted Mr Marimuthu.

(From left) Mr Subbaiyan Marimuthu, Mr Anisuzzaman MD and Mr Shohel MD died from severe burns to 90 per cent of their bodies following an explosion in a Tuas industrial building on Feb 24. PHOTOS: ITSRAININGRAINCOATS/FACEBOOK MORE ON THIS TOPIC

He did not elaborate on what he meant.

Mr Lwin Moe Tun said that if he had anything to hide, he would not have eventually mentioned the deleted items to the Ministry of Manpower investigators.

Responding to this, State Counsel Tan pointed out that Mr Lwin Moe Tun had not deleted another message he sent to Mr Marimuthu also at 12.09pm which read: "Answer the call leh."

She said: "You're actually quite selective in the messages and the things you've chosen to delete... If it's something that puts you in a bad light like using an expletive to a worker, you delete it."

A fire investigation team at the site of the incident on Feb 25, 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

Mr Lwin Moe Tun, who is also a member of Stars Engrg's risk management team and went through a Workplace Skills Qualification for workplace safety and health, was also grilled on why he did not find the cause for white smoke that had emanated from the mixer machine and hairline cracks on the oil jacket prior to the blast.

He told the inquiry committee, chaired by Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun, that he notified his boss, sole director of Stars Engrg Chua Xing Da, since he did not know the machine well.

Asked if he thought after the machine caught fire on Feb 24 that it should be decommissioned, he said: "Yes, I thought that at the time the machine should not be used."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.