The collapse of a giant, brand new gantry crane which killed 36 people in a Shanghai shipyard may have been caused by loose steel ropes, state media and an engineer at the crane's designer said. Chinese authorities are investigating the accident, the latest in a series of deadly fires, explosions and building collapses that highlight China's lax safety standards and have roused public anger.
The collapsed crane is one of the largest gantry cranes to be built and designed in China, capable of carrying 600 tons, engineers and shipbuilding executives say. It was only inaugurated on Monday.
The H-shaped structure weighed a total of 4,900 tons and consisted of two legs and a 3,000-ton crossbeam, an engineer at a Chinese company which designed the crane said.
More than 30 workers, mechanics and engineers at Hudong Shipbuilding Group in Shanghai's Pudong district were raising the crane at 8 a.m. on Tuesday (midnight GMT) when a steel rope fastening the crossbeam to its leg came loose, state media said.
The Shanghai Daily newspaper said the workers were trying to repair the loose steel rope when it snapped, sending the two legs and the 100-m (330-foot) crossbeam crashing to the ground.
It did not say how the rope might have come loose.
"I was standing on the crane's crossbeam pulling a steel rope. Then it suddenly broke and I felt I was falling," the newspaper quoted one of the seriously injured, 33-year-old worker Tang Weigeng, as saying.
The engineer said two steel ropes had blocked the crossbeam from being lifted any higher than its 47-m (155 feet) position, 33 m (110 feet) short of its destination.
Workers first realized the problem at a ceremonial inauguration for the crane on Monday, he said.
"They decided to make way for the crane on Tuesday morning by loosening the ropes which
actually support a lot of weight," he said, adding: "This caused the crane to tumble."
Chinese authorities and shipyard officials declined to comment. Xinhua said an investigation was being organized by the Industrial Safety Committee of the State Council, China's cabinet. The state agency said 36 people were killed and three injured. Nurses at the port city's Dongfang hospital said the three injured were still in critical condition with two in a coma.
The Shanghai Daily said they were being treated for brain injuries, bruised organs and bone fractures.
Nearly 20 of the casualties were employees of the shipyard and the rest were technicians and experts from the Shanghai Power Construction Engineering Co and Tongji University, which were responsible for installing the crane, the paper said.
About twenty workers were on top of the crane and the rest underneath it when the structure collapsed, the engineer said. Officials at Hudong Shipbuilding Group, China's third largest ship builder, said the rescue work had been basically completed and declined further comment.
Other shipping industry executives said two other cranes of the same design and also capable of lifting 600-ton loads were running well in other shipyards.
The engineer said the cranes were designed last year and the first one installed in a shipyard in Jiangsu province, which borders Shanghai, in February. The second is at a shipyard in Pudong's Waigaoqiao district and the third was Hudong's. - (Reuters)