SEOUL — SK Engineering and Construction spotted signs that a dam in Laos was sinking three days before it collapsed but did nothing except monitor the situation, a state-owned power company involved in the project alleged on Thursday.
Korea Western Power, which holds a 25% stake in the $1 billion hydropower venture in southern Laos, told South Korea’s National Assembly that the builder discovered that the dam had sunk by 11 cm amid heavy rains on July 20. But SK Engineering took no action because that level was within its range of tolerance, according to the utility.
“The dam had sunk by 1 meter on Monday, and the company asked the state government for help to evacuate people,” CEO Kim Byung-sook told lawmakers.
The testimony came as the Laotian government prepares to investigate possible construction flaws behind Monday’s collapse, which killed more than 20 and displaced thousands of people from local villages.
Laos’ Ministry of Energy and Mines said that heightened water levels due to rain may not have been the only reason for the collapse of the dam, which was 90% complete. Thai state-owned Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding is another investor in the multi-dam hydropower project.
SK Engineering neither confirmed nor denied the utility chief’s testimony, saying only that the company is conducting an internal investigation on the causes of the collapse. The builder said it had detected the loss of part of the dam on Sunday and informed the authorities swiftly.
The company offered condolences, but did not apologize.
“We express our grief and condolence to the Laotian people and the bereaved families of the victims,” CEO Cho Ki-haeng said in a statement. SK Engineering is a subsidiary of SK Holdings, one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in offered to send a rescue team to Laos as well as medicine, emergency kits and money, but the landlocked Southeast Asian country has yet to accept. Seoul dispatched an advance team to Laos on Thursday that will discuss this matter with the authorities.