|Inspectors look around a charred oil storage tank in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, Monday. /Korea Times photo by Hong In-ki|
By Lee Suh-yoon
The recent explosion of an oil tank in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province ― and the ensuing fire that consumed 2.6 million liters of gasoline over 17 hours ― has revealed the lack of adequate safety regulations at oil storage sites in the country.
The explosion Sunday was caused by a sky lantern released by a young Sri Lankan migrant worker, about 300 meters from the oil storage site, police said.
The grass around the storage compound caught fire as the sky lantern, lifted by a burning flame inside, landed there, CCTV footage showed.
As there were no fire detectors installed outside the oil tank, the operators were unaware of the danger until the explosion came 18 minutes later, the police revealed in a briefing Tuesday.
Police suspect the explosion occurred as sparks from the burning grass made contact with oil and natural gas vapors emitted from the tank's ventilation hatch.
It was found the oil storage facility, owned and operated by Daehan Oil Pipeline Corp. (DOPCO), did not have oil vapor collection devices. These could have prevented the fire, but was not installed to cut down on costs. They are not compulsory for oil storage facilities, only at retail gas stations since last year.
DOPCO, a formerly state-owned company that exclusively manages all oil pipelines in the country, currently operates eight oil storage facilities nationwide.
The biggest one in Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province, is listed as a critical state facility, requiring at least two safety checks every year along with a compulsory fire drill during annual military exercises.
However, the others, including the one where the tank exploded Saturday, only require a safety check by outside professionals once every 11 years. The Goyang storage site had its last check in 2014.
The public seemed dumbfounded by the lack of safety measures at sites prone to big accidents.
"Why is there grass right next to an oil tank?" an internet user wrote on Naver.
"The government should award the Sri Lankan man for helping us realize a small sky lantern is enough to destroy our nation," another wrote.
The police said Tuesday it would request the prosecution to seek an arrest warrant for the Sri Lankan worker on charges of involuntary setting the fire. CCTV footage showed him running after the lantern as it flew, then walking away after seeing the lantern come down in the storage compound.
The Sri Lankan worker said he picked up the lantern near the expressway construction site where he was working. It was found that a nearby elementary school flew dozens of lanterns into the sky Saturday night as part of a camping event.
Sky lanterns, usually set afloat with a wish, were banned last year due to fire hazard concerns. People who fly them can be subjected to a fine of up to 2 million won ($175).