The Industrial Development Bureau (IDB) has decided to give 48 petrochemical plants belonging to the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG, 台塑集團) more time to coordinate their suspension timelines, but the suspension must begin next month, IDB Director-General Woody Duh (杜紫軍) said on Saturday.
Duh announced the decision after a meeting of a government investigation team, which was established to inspect the safety of the group’s petrochemical complex in Mailiao Township (麥寮), Yunlin County, to review plans to suspend factory operations by the Formosa Petrochemical Corp (台塑), Formosa Chemicals & Fibre Corp (台灣化纖) and Nan Ya Plastics Corp (南亞塑膠).
The three companies were asked to suspend operations at their 48 plants in Mailiao, pending safety inspections. There have been eight fires at the Mailiao complex over the past year, which has given rise to safety concerns at such plants.
No substantial resolutions were made at the review meeting on Saturday, Duh said. Although the three companies have all submitted their individual suspension and inspection schedules, they have yet to coordinate with each other, he said.
In addition, the independent third party, Lloyd’s Register Group of the UK, has not yet made an overall assessment because it was just recently called in, he said.
The bureau will give Lloyd’s one to two weeks to coordinate the companies’ suspension plans and will review the completed parts of the plan on Sunday, he said.
However, Duh reiterated the government’s determination to suspend the plants by the end of next month. A total of 13 plants under Formosa Chemicals & Fibre Corp, 16 under Formosa Plastics Corp and 19 under Nan Ya Plastics Corp are on the suspension list.
As for another FPG subsidiary, Formosa Petrochemical Corp(台塑石化), Duh said the bureau would conduct another meeting to review the company’s suspension plan because of the complexity of the issue. Formosa Petrochemical’s chairman, Chen Bao-lang (陳寶郎), said maintenance of the problematic complex in Miaoliao has so far relied on domestic contractors, but he would call on government assistance to bring in foreign workers for certain jobs.
Chen, who served as chairman of Kuokuang Petrochemical -Technology Co Co (國光石化) until May last year, said that industrial disasters involve complex issues, such as equipment inspection and maintenance. Safety applies not just to facilities, but also to workers and other people, he added.
For example, replacing plumbing lines at the fire-plagued complex will require employing welders, but there is a shortage of wielders in Taiwan, said Chen, who has also held senior positions at state-run oil refiner CPC Corp, Taiwan (CPC, 台灣中油).
Not many young people are interested in such work because it is “hard and laborious, so most welders in Taiwan are over the age of 40,” he said.
The cost of replacing plumbing lines at the Mailiao complex has been estimated at NT$12 billion (US$395.49 million).
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