Fri, Jul 02, 2010 - Page 3 News List

Blast at weapons disposal facility blamed on heat

By Vincent Y. Chao  /  STAFF REPORTER

Heavy smoke belching from an explosives disposal facility in rural Kinmen County on Wednesday was the result of natural causes, not negligence by the military contractor, defense officials said yesterday.

Local media reported that firefighters were called to the scene in the east of the island on Wednesday night at about 8:30pm after witnesses saw smoke, fire and explosions in the area.

The disposal facility, run by military contractor Chu Shu Enterprises, was empty at the time and no injuries have been reported, according to local reports. Military officials said the company has been disposing of expired military explosives since 2006.

A preliminary investigation found that left-over explosive material from the dismantling of a 227kg mine ignited after being subject to high temperatures in the area, causing subsequent explosions from phosphorous bombs stored in the vicinity, the military said.

The military said that it would increase its monitoring of safety controls for its military contractors to prevent a repeat of Wednesday’s fire.

This is not the first time that the sparsely populated island has faced problems from discarded explosives. In September last year, two female tourists discovered an old US-made M11 semiautomatic weapon while walking along the island’s beaches. Military inspectors later found a large 227kg mine in the area.

Up to 450,000 shells fired by Chinese forces during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1958 are estimated to have landed on the island, creating a niche economy famous for its Kinmen knives, made out of the metal from the shells. The military laid thousands of mines on the island’s coastlines during the period to deter a Chinese invasion.

Since 2007, the military has been trying to clear the Kinmen County minefields both to help boost tourism and protect its 82,000 residents.

Under the Anti-Personnel Landmines Control Act (殺傷性地雷管制條例), enacted in 2006, all anti-personnel landmines on the island must be cleared by 2013.

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