South Korea Battery Maker Apologizes for Deadly Fire but Says It Complied with Safety Rules 

Emergency personnel and investigators examine the site the day after a fire at a lithium battery factory owned by South Korean battery maker Aricell in Hwaseong on June 25, 2024. (Yonhap/ AFP)
Emergency personnel and investigators examine the site the day after a fire at a lithium battery factory owned by South Korean battery maker Aricell in Hwaseong on June 25, 2024. (Yonhap/ AFP)
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South Korea Battery Maker Apologizes for Deadly Fire but Says It Complied with Safety Rules 

Emergency personnel and investigators examine the site the day after a fire at a lithium battery factory owned by South Korean battery maker Aricell in Hwaseong on June 25, 2024. (Yonhap/ AFP)
Emergency personnel and investigators examine the site the day after a fire at a lithium battery factory owned by South Korean battery maker Aricell in Hwaseong on June 25, 2024. (Yonhap/ AFP)

The CEO of a South Korean lithium battery manufacturer apologized on Tuesday following a massive factory fire that killed 23 workers, but said the company had complied with all required safety precautions and training.

The fire on Monday, which began at a factory with 35,000 lithium batteries, produced thick smoke that spread quickly and the workers inside the second-floor location likely lost consciousness and succumbed within seconds, fire officials said.

Firefighters with search dogs combed the gutted structure on Tuesday in Hwaseong, an industrial cluster southwest of the capital Seoul, and found the last person who had been unaccounted for, raising the death toll to 23.

Seventeen of those who died were Chinese, and one Laotian was among those killed. Most of the workers were hired temporarily at the plant packing primary lithium batteries run by South Korea-based Aricell, which is majority-owned by S-Connect.

Aricell CEO Park Soon-kwan offered condolences to the workers who were killed and apologized to everyone who had been affected by the accident.

"We will be conscientiously taking part in the investigation by authorities and will do our best to determine the cause of the accident and to take measures to prevent a repeat of such an accident," Park told reporters at the scene of the fire.

Officials from agencies including the National Forensic Service, police and the fire department entered the factory as part of a joint investigation.

The fire was the latest industrial accident in a country where dozens of manufacturing workers lose their lives on the job each year despite repeated calls to improve workplace safety.

"I ask the ministries of labor and industry and the National Fire Agency to conduct an urgent safety inspection and, where there is concern of an accident, take immediate measures," Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said at a cabinet meeting.

Park, the Aricell CEO, said the company had fully complied with safety procedures and training, but some of the 103 workers at the factory including some of those killed were contract workers dispatched by a manpower company.

Established in 2020, Aricell makes lithium primary batteries for sensors and radio communication devices. It has 48 employees, according to its latest regulatory filing and its LinkedIn profile.

Its parent S-Connect supplies lithium-ion battery parts to Samsung SDI, one of the country's major secondary battery makers, according to S-Connect's website.

Regulatory filings showed Aricell recorded a 2.6 billion won ($1.9 million) operating loss last year on 4.8 billion won revenue, and a 14% increase in accumulated debt to 23.8 billion won. It has recorded net losses every year since its founding.

Shares of S-Connect, registered on the junior Kosdaq index, were trading 1.37% lower on Tuesday after plunging 22.5% on Monday following the news of the fire.

A labor ministry official told Reuters it was investigating whether Aricell complied with safety regulations and gave adequate safety training for temporary foreign workers.

Violations of those regulations are subject to criminal prosecution, the official said requesting anonymity.

Many of the bodies remain unidentified.

Reuters journalists saw some wailing family members trying to enter the site, which had been cordoned off.



Internet Hasn't Been Restored in Bangladesh despite Apparent Calm Following Deadly Protests

Bangladeshi soldiers stand guard at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, amid the anti-quota protests in Dhaka on July 21, 2024. (Photo by Munir UZ ZAMAN / AFP)
Bangladeshi soldiers stand guard at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, amid the anti-quota protests in Dhaka on July 21, 2024. (Photo by Munir UZ ZAMAN / AFP)
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Internet Hasn't Been Restored in Bangladesh despite Apparent Calm Following Deadly Protests

Bangladeshi soldiers stand guard at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, amid the anti-quota protests in Dhaka on July 21, 2024. (Photo by Munir UZ ZAMAN / AFP)
Bangladeshi soldiers stand guard at the Supreme Court of Bangladesh, amid the anti-quota protests in Dhaka on July 21, 2024. (Photo by Munir UZ ZAMAN / AFP)

Internet and mobile data services are still down despite apparent calm in Bangladesh following a verdict that scaled back a controversial quota system for government jobs after weeks of relentless protests that turned deadly.
The government has also declared Monday a public holiday, with only essential services running. This comes after a curfew with a shoot-on-sight order was installed days earlier and military personnel could be seen patrolling the capital and other areas, The Associated Press said.
The South Asian country witnessed clashes between the police and mainly student protesters demanding an end to a quota that reserved 30% of government jobs for relatives of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971.
The violence has killed more than a hundred people, according to at least four local newspapers. Authorities have not so far shared official figures for deaths. On Thursday, communications were cut off as tensions escalated.
There was no immediate violence reported on Monday morning after the Supreme Court ordered the veterans’ quota to be cut to 5%, with 93% of jobs allocated on merit, the day before. The remaining 2% will be set aside for members of ethnic minorities as well as transgender and disabled people.
On Sunday night, some student protesters urged the government to restore internet services. Hasnat Abdullah, a coordinator of the Anti-Discrimination Student Movement, told the Associated Press that they were withdrawing their calls for a complete shutdown, which they attempted to impose last week.
“But we are issuing an ultimatum for 48 hours to stop the digital crackdown and restore internet connectivity,” he said, adding that security officials deployed at various universities should be withdrawn, student dormitories reopened and steps taken so students can return to their campuses safely. Abdullah also said they wanted the government to end the curfew and ensure the country was back to normal within two days.
Students have also demanded some university officials to step down after failing to protect campuses. Sarjis Alam, another coordinator of the Anti-Discrimination Student Movement, said that they would continue with their protests if all their demands weren't met. “We cannot step back from our movement like a coward,” he added.
Another key organizer of the student protests, Nahid Islam, told reporters that the internet shutdown had disrupted their ability to communicate and alleged that authorities were trying to create divisions among protesters. “I am mentally traumatized ... our unity is being destroyed,” he said.
The US Embassy in the capital Dhaka described Sunday the situation as “extremely volatile” and “unpredictable,” adding that guns, tear gas and other weapons have been used in the vicinity of the embassy. They said the Bangladeshi army had been deployed and urged Americans to be vigilant, avoid large crowds and reconsider travel plans.
The protests have posed the most serious challenge to Bangladesh’s government since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won a fourth consecutive term in January elections that the main opposition groups boycotted. Universities have been closed, the internet has been shut off and the government has ordered people to stay at home.
Protesters had argued the quota system was discriminatory and benefited supporters of Hasina, whose Awami League party led the independence movement, and wanted it replaced by a merit-based system. Hasina has defended the quota system, saying that veterans deserve the highest respect regardless of political affiliation.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has backed the protests, vowing to organize its own demonstrations as many of its supporters joined the student-led protests.
The Awami League and the BNP have often accused each other of fueling political chaos and violence, most recently ahead of the country’s national election, which was marred by a crackdown on several opposition figures.