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SK E&C blamed for dam collapse, rebuffs result

May 30,2019
SK Engineering & Construction on Tuesday rejected the conclusion by a panel of experts that the root cause of the collapse of a dam in Laos last year was poor construction.

The fatal collapse of Saddle Dam D at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydropower project in July last year killed at least 40 people and created 6,000 victims.

According to the Laos News Agency KPL, the National Investigation Committee revealed on Tuesday that the collapse occurred mainly because of the high permeability and erodible horizons of the dam’s foundation. When the erosion reached a certain level with water filling up after heavy rain, the dam softened.

The Laotian news agency also reported that while there was heavy rainfall, the reservoir level was still below the maximum operation level when the failure started.

The investigation was conducted by an independent expert panel (IEP) and was also observed by foreign parties.

“According to the IEP, the foundation is without doubt involved in the failure, which could have been prevented by adequate treatment measures,” the KPL wrote.

SK E&C, which was responsible for the construction, rejected the result, saying the investigation lacks scientific grounds and that other institutions that observed the investigation had different ideas on the main reason for the accident.

It added that if the IEP’s finding is true, there would have been a large amount of soil leakage found at the bottom part of the saddle dam, but “it wasn’t the case.”

The Korean company had claimed last year that the dam didn’t collapse, but overflowed due to days of unprecedentedly heavy rain.

“We hope the investigation can be processed through fair and objective measures and we will give our best support in reaching a conclusion that all experts can agree on,” SK’s construction unit said in a statement Tuesday.

As the conclusion could largely influence who is held responsible for compensation, the struggle between the Laos government and SK E&C is likely to continue for some time.

The dam was built by a joint venture comprising SK E&C and Laos and Thai partners beginning in February, 2013.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]