One dead, 2 hurt in Sabah-Sarawak gas pipeline blast

Desmond Davidson

The cause of an explosion at the Sabah-Sarawak Gas Pipeline that killed one and injured two is under investigation. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, November 16, 2022.

AN Indonesian national working on the Sabah-Sarawak link road project was killed and two other workers suffered burns when a section of the Sabah-Sarawak Gas Pipeline (SSGP) between Long Ugui and Long Sukang in Lawas exploded this afternoon.

The Fire and Rescue Department was called to put out the fireball that leapt several hundred metres into the sky and retrieve the body, and identified the deceased as excavator operator Hadi Wiyono.

The department identified the two injured workers as Hendrick (full name not given) and Gabriel Meripa. 

The fireball reportedly could be seen by residents in Lawas town, some 45km away.

Local radio station Cats FM, quoting Lawas district police chief Sila Kadong, said the three men were doing earthwork some 20m from the pipeline at the time of the incident. 

He said he believed their digging could have caused some soil movement that ruptured the pipeline.

Petronas in a statement confirming the incident late this evening said the incident is believed to have involved “a third-party contractor performing work unrelated to SSGP operations near the pipeline’s right-of-way area”. 

The national petroleum company said it had lodged a police report for cops to begin an investigation into the incident. 

Petronas also said it has deployed its emergency response team to the area. 

“The company will work closely with all relevant authorities to take the necessary action and preventive measures to contain the situation and protect the safety of the surrounding community and environment,” it added.

The incident infuriated Ba Kelalan assemblyman Baru Bian, who demanded the pipeline be closed permanently; for independent, qualified international experts be brought in to thoroughly inspect the entire stretch; and for the inspection report to be made public.

Baru, who is contesting the Lawas parliamentary seat in the general election, said he has lost confidence in Petronas to prevent pipe leaks and explosions – incidents that have occurred five times since the 500km natural gas pipeline linking Kimanis in Sabah to Bintulu in Sarawak became operational in 2014. 

“The pipeline is a hazard to the people living nearby. After all its (Petronas) reassurances, leaks and explosions are still happening. 

“I do not believe that the pipeline is safe at all, and I doubt that it was built according to stringent safety standards,” he said in a statement. 

Baru said since 2014, he has been pressing Petronas to improve the safety aspects of the pipeline, as there have been at least five incidents of leaks and explosions, the most recent one before today’s incident being in September. 

“When I was works minister, a team of officers from Petronas briefed me on their safety protocols and assured me that they would be monitoring and maintaining the pipeline to prevent more incidents. 

“I understand from my sources that the leak that led to the explosion may have been caused by soil movement. 

“That has been the most common reason given by Petronas for past incidents.” 

Baru said whatever the cause may be, “we cannot allow our people to be at risk of death and injury from explosions that happen when there is soil movement”. 

He said though soil movement is not preventable, especially in an equatorial climate, the question is: “What should Petronas do to prevent more incidents like this?”

He said after the September leak that occurred along a section of the pipeline close to his hometown of Kampung Pa’Berunut, he “questioned why the pipeline should not be closed for good so the people who live there can have peace of mind”. 

“This gas pipeline, which helps Petronas reap millions or billions in profit, does not benefit the people of Lawas who live and work in its vicinity. In fact, it is a hazard to their lives and safety.” – November 16, 2022.

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