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Shell Shuts Down Malaysia Plant After Explosion

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A Malaysian unit of Royal Dutch Shell said yesterday, it had shut down a large plant on Borneo island after an explosion injured 12 people and caused extensive damage.

The explosion occurred at about 10:50 p.m. (1450 GMT) on Thursday at Shell MDS (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd's 400,000-tonne middle distillate synthesis plant in Bintulu town in Sarawak state.

"The plant has been shut down for safety and security reasons as well as for damage control and assessment," Shell MDS said in a statement. Two of the plant's 12 tanks caught fire after the explosion, the company said.

Fire at one of the tanks, which was filled with naphtha, was put out on Friday, while the blaze at the other tank, which stocks kerosene, was expected to die out later in the day, it said.

"The fire at two product tanks following an explosion at the SMDS plant last night is now under control and is not in danger of escalating," it said.

" The remaining eight product and two sludge tanks are being cooled off to prevent any further possible spread," it said. The plant is a joint venture between Shell Gas BV, Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas), Mitsubishi and the Sarawak state government. It makes products ranging from distillates to waxes, and daily production averages 1,200 tonnes.

"Investigations will be carried out once the plant has been rendered safe. It is believed that the damage is extensive," the statement said without elaborating. A Shell spokeswoman in the capital Kuala Lumpur said the plant converted natural gas into liquid hydrocarbons. More than 150 firefighters were at the plant and another 70 were on their way from the state capital Kuching, the company said.

Twelve people were injured in the explosion, including five soldiers apparently stationed at a camp near the plant and two employees of a nearby industry, it said. All but two of the injured were released after outpatient treatment at a local hospital. Two Shell MDS employees, one with a broken wrist and the other with a cut to the head, were in stable condition in hospital.

"Employees have been told to stay at home and remain accessible," Shell MDS said.

First Published: Sat, December 27 1997. 00:00 IST