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NUS sues 3 firms for $55m over fire caused by gas leak

NUS sues 3 firms for $55m over fire caused by gas leak

Source: Straits Times
Date Published: 10 Jan 2019
Author: K.C. Vijayan

It says their alleged negligence when undertaking tasks resulted in five-hour blaze on Aug 10, 2012.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) is suing three companies for $55.3 million following a fire caused by a gas leak at its Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore(Seris).

The afternoon blaze on Aug 10, 2012, which took firefighters nearly five hours to douse, caused NUS to spend more than $46 million on rebuilding a laboratory and replacing equipment at the institute. The sum forms the bulk of the damages it is seeking to recover from the three defendants.

They are: Air Liquide Singapore (ALS), Mechlink Quality Management, and a proprietor husband and employee wife who traded as J-Quest Engineering & Trading.

Their alleged negligence when undertaking tasks at the Seris premises caused the fire, the university said in its lawsuit before the High Court. A pre-trial conference was held on Tuesday.

The fire, on the ground floor of Block E3A at the NUS Kent Ridge campus, was caused by a leakage of silane - a colourless, gaseous and flammable compound - which ignited when a vent valve was displaced at the Valve Manifold Box (VMB). Seris conducts industry-oriented research and development in solar energy conversion and occupies four floors of the seven-storey building.

In court papers filed by its lawyer K. Anparasan of WhiteFern LLC, NUS claims the workers of the three defendants were working at or close to the silane VMB at Cleanroom1B then.

ALS, a gas manufacturer that designed and supplied the gas systems used at Seris, was then installing and testing new gas pipelines to connect a multi-stack tube furnace in Cleanroom1B to the existing gas system, among other things.

Mechlink's staff were present at the premises then, to conduct quality assurance checks on the newly installed pipelines while J-Quest's workers were doing related cabling works close to the VMB.

NUS claims the serious and widespread damage extended to the external face of the building, exhaust polypropylene and fibreglass ducts running from level 1 to the air scrubbers on the rooftop.

ALS, defended by lawyers Tito Isaac and Gokulamurali Haridass, denies the claims, saying NUS was aware the silane gas was not switched off at source before the works started and should have taken steps to ensure the silane VMB was locked at all times, among other things.

Mechlink, defended by lawyers Loh Ling Wei and Teo Weng Kie, argues that its role was to carry out quality assurance checks on newly installed gas lines not commissioned at the material time. It also alleges NUS contributed to or caused the damage through its own negligence.

Lawyer Raymond Wong, in defending J-Quest, denies liability and said owner Hong Yong Tiong died in 2016 and his wife Tan Lee Kiang took over. The company de-registered last year.

An NUS spokesman said yesterday the damage to the premises and equipment has been repaired and the facilities restored.

It also has in place preventive measures to minimise fire risks on campus and these include a Rapid Response Team to provide quick intermediate response before the arrival of firefighters, she said.

The fire at the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore was caused by a leakage of silane – a colourless, gaseous and flammable compound. 

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.




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