Some S. Koreans show sympathy to Sri Lankan man detained for oil tank fire

Park Sae-jin Reporter Posted : 2018-10-10 13:24 Updated : 2018-10-10 16:30
글씨작게 글씨크게

[Yonhap Photo]

SEOUL -- A 27-year-old Sri Lankan worker garnered unexpected public sympathy in South Korea after he was accused of flying a paper sky lantern that accidentally landed near an oil storage facility and ignited a huge fire.

The fire Sunday at an oil storage facility in Goyang, a satellite city just northwest of Seoul, was put down in a 17-hour operation by firefighters. Police detained the man, based on CCTV footages that showed him sending a sky lantern into the air from a nearby construction site.

About 100 public petitions have been posted on the presidential website, insisting the man should avoid heavy punishment because his action was unintentional. Some supporters called for the punishment of oil storage workers for negligence.

Police released the man on Wednesday after state prosecutors refused to seek a court-issued warrant for his official arrest. He would be investigated without being detained. 

The lantern, a small hot air balloon made of paper with an opening at the bottom to place a candle or other types of fuel, flew in from a primary school the previous night. Paper sky lanterns carrying written wishes have been used traditionally in Northeast Asia, but it is illegal in South Korea.

The Sri Lankan man told investigators that he picked the lantern by chance during a morning break and sent it back into the air out of curiosity. The lantern traveled about 300 meters and fell on a grassy area, starting a fire that spread to a gasoline storage tank inside the facility. 
Police said the man had chased the lantern but his run stopped because of the fence surrounding the storage facility.

There were no casualties because the fire broke out one kilometer away from the nearest apartment complex, but many residents had been scared because the place run by Daehan Oil Pipeline Corp. has 20 tanks packed with oil products.

If convicted, the Sri Lankan worker could be given a jail term of up to three years. However, Daehan came under fire for failing to monitor the blaze through security cameras for 18 minutes.