Nine detained in Qingdao over fatal pipeline blast that killed at least 55

Investigation into cause of deadly oil explosion blames human error and results in seven arrests at Sinopec and two at Qingdao economic development zone

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2013, 11:16am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 3:06am

Police have detained nine people believed to be responsible for the deadly oil pipeline blast that killed at least 55 in the eastern port city of Qingdao last Friday, as the central authorities moved to investigate who should take the blame for the blasts.

Seven of those detained were connected to the pipeline owner Sinopec, the country’s biggest oil refiner, and the other two were from the economic development zone in Qingdao where the explosion took place, the publicity office of Huangdao district said on Monday night.

The Qingdao municipal government also announced the detentions on its weibo account on Tuesday morning. Neither elaborated on the identities of those apprehended. 

Another 145 victims were injured in the blast and are still in hospital. Nine remain missing.

A preliminary probe by the State Council blamed human error for the blast – citing poor planning, bad maintenance of the pipeline, and inadequate response – but whether the state-owned oil giant or the local government should take a greater responsibility remains sketchy.

The investigation team, headed by the director of the State Administration of Work Safety, confirmed yesterday the ruptured oil pipe was part of a 27-year-old line linking Dongying – another port city in Shandong province – to Huangdao.  It was previously reported to be part of a newly-built pipeline between Weifang and Huangdao.

Sinopec started overhaul of the old pipeline in February after finding its anti-corrosive coating was in “worrying” condition, the Beijing News reported on Tuesday. There was no information on whether the section of pipe in Huangdao had been repaired.

A company spokesperson said oil leaked for about half an hour before transmission was cut off. But the spilled crude seeped into the urban drainage system for about 12 minutes, and that led to a series of explosions more than seven hours after the leak first occurred.

Qingdao’s city government said they had no information about the leak until after the blasts had taken place, but Sinopec said it had reported the situation to the Huangdao district government, which oversees the economic development zone.

Shandong is home to one of the largest crude-oil import terminals in the country, and controls one-seventh of the nation's oil and gas pipelines. The company said most of the oil spill, which had spread across 3,000 square metres of the harbour, had been soaked up.

The Huangdao public security department referred questions to the local public information office. A staffer reached there was not available for immediate comment. Sinopec and the Qingdao Economic and Technological Development Zone could not be reached for immediate comment. 

Video: Qingdao pipeline leak explosion