Tuas industrial blast: Engineer deleted some contents of deceased worker’s phone in defiance of boss’ instruction
SINGAPORE — A 31-year-old engineer, who oversees production at a Tuas industrial unit where an explosion killed three workers, deleted a photo and two text messages from a deceased worker’s phone after the blast even though his boss had told him not to do so.
- A Stars Engrg engineer who deleted a photo and two text messages from his and a worker’s phones after the explosion took the stand at an inquiry
- Mr Lwin Moe Tun defied his boss’ instruction to not delete the material from the deceased worker’s phone
- Later, he did not tell investigators about the deletions, and tried retrieving the material using software that he bought
- Four other workers injured in the blast also testified, with one saying that the whole episode “feels like a bad dream”
SINGAPORE — A 31-year-old engineer, who oversees production at the Tuas industrial unit where an explosion killed three workers, deleted a photo and two text messages from a deceased worker’s phone after the blast even though his boss had told him not to.
Mr Lwin Moe Tun also did not inform Ministry of Manpower (MOM) investigators about the deletions during his first interview with them on March 4, and instead tried retrieving the material, which was also deleted on his own phone, using software that he bought.
The deleted material related to an earlier damage to a heater in a mixer machine that was eventually further damaged in the deadly blast on Feb 24.
The engineer told investigators about the deletions only when he was interviewed a second time on April 13, after his attempts to recover them had failed.
These details emerged as the Myanmar national’s statement was read out on Wednesday (Sept 29), the eighth day of public hearings by an inquiry committee looking into the circumstances leading to the blast, including whether obvious warnings from workers were ignored.
The explosion and fire at the industrial building located at 32E Tuas Avenue 11 killed three workers who suffered 90 per cent burns: Subbaiyan Marimuthu, 38, from India, as well as Anisuzzaman Md, 29, and Shohel Md, 23, who were both from Bangladesh.
The site was used as a workshop to produce fire-rated insulation wrap.
After the explosion, the bulk of the damage was to the mixer machine, which was used to mix water, potato starch and other materials to make fire clay, a key component of the wrap. The lower portion of the back of the machine’s oil jacket had ruptured.
THE DELETED MESSAGES
The engineer’s boss, Stars Engrg’s sole director Chua Xing Da, 37, was questioned about the deletions when he took the stand last week, and Wednesday was the first time the committee heard a statement from the person who did the deleting.
Mr Lwin Moe Tun will be questioned on his statement on Thursday.
The committee heard on the first day of the hearings on Sept 20 that the deleted photo was sent on Feb 24 by Marimuthu, who supervised workers at the workshop, less than 10 minutes before the blast happened at 11.22am. It showed the damaged heater with green tape around its wiring. Marimuthu died in the blast.
Mr Lwin Moe Tun’s reply to him, which was also deleted, was sent at 11.32am, about 10 minutes after the blast. It read: “Ok let me know ASAP.”
The committee heard about the last of the deleted correspondence on Wednesday. Sent more than 45 minutes after the blast, at 12.09pm, it read: “F*** leh.”
At around that time, Mr Lwin Moe Tun said that one of his colleagues at the Changi office had informed him about a fire at the workshop. He tried to call the workers there but no one picked up.
Mr Lwin Moe Tun said that he had deleted the messages on his own phone on Feb 25, a day after the blast, after Mr Chua said “yes” to the suggestion.
The next day, he deleted the same messages from Marimuthu’s phone, which was found at the Tuas site and handed to him by an officer on the day of the blast. He managed to get it charged in Mr Chua’s car and switched it on. The statement did not specify which officer handed Mr Lwin Moe Tun the phone.
He said Mr Chua had told him not to delete the messages, but he deleted them anyway after Mr Chua dropped him off at a canteen near Stars Engrg’s office at Changi.
He did so after he noticed that the phone was running out of battery, the committee heard.
Mr Chua told the committee last week that he had told Mr Lwin Moe Tun “not to do anything stupid” when the latter asked to delete messages from Marimuthu’s phone.
When Mr Lwin Moe Tun called later that evening to say that he had deleted the contents, “I was very angry with Moe and scolded him”, Mr Chua said.
In his statement, the engineer also said that Marimuthu had told him on Feb 12 that he was scared to work at the workshop after a fire there that day. He said he wanted to return to India to see his baby whom he had never met. But Marimuthu continued to work after that.
‘FEELS LIKE A BAD DREAM’
Other workers injured in the blast who had not previously testified took the stand on Wednesday.
They included two Stars Engrg workers, Mr Rahad Asfaquzzaman, 30, and Mr Ahmmed Lizon, 27, both from Bangladesh; and China national Zhao Jian Wang, 43, and Mr Miah Md Azam, 36, a Bangladeshi, who are workers from P3 Project, which occupies the units opposite Stars Engrg's workshop.
Mr Rahad suffered 48.5 per cent burns on his body, Mr Ahmmed suffered 37 per cent burns, Mr Zhao suffered 8 per cent burns, and Mr Miah suffered a minor head injury.
Mr Rahad told the committee that the whole episode “feels like a bad dream”.
“I feel especially down because I am currently living alone in Singapore without my family. I hope to feel better once I recover from my injuries and am able to return to my family in Bangladesh,” he added.
The committee heard that when the blast happened, Mr Rahad was about to lift a completed fire wrap off the ground to place on a packing machine near the front shutters of the workshop when he suddenly felt a huge push to the front of his body that threw him a distance of 2m.
He then realised that he was burning – his shirt was burnt off, his body had turned black and there was blood coming out of his mouth.
He and other workers ran to a nearby field to call for help.
He recalled that Shohel was the last to join them at the field. The fellow worker was already “completely burned and was unable to speak or voice out”, he stated, adding that he had laid down on the ground within 30 seconds of making it to the field.
Mr Rahad said that his injuries continue to affect his daily living, pointing out that he is unable to produce tears when he cries, among other afflictions.
He remains emotionally affected as well. “My face has changed and I no longer look like how I used to (look),” he said.
Mr Rahad also continues to grieve the loss of his three colleagues, with whom he said he used to share stories of their personal lives and families.
At the time of the explosion, Mr Ahmmed happened to be bending over to pick up a piece of fire clay from a trolley under the platform, where the mixer machine was installed, so the heat was particularly intense on the back of his neck.
He had difficulties sleeping at first due to the injuries on his back, but that has since improved, the committee heard.
Mr Zhao said that he was working about 20m away from the frontage of Stars Engrg’s unit at the time of the blast. He was hurt by flames coming out of the unit, which burnt him on his arms, hands, side of his face and the back of his neck.
Mr Miah said that he was working about 15m away from the frontage of Stars Engrg’s unit when he felt “a lot of wind” and something hit his head, causing him to fall forward. He later realised that the skin on the back of his head was burnt and had turned black. Some skin had also peeled off.
The hearing continues on Thursday.