UPDATE: Explosion closes Imperial Sugar refinery

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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PORT WENTWORTH, GA. — An explosion at an Imperial Sugar refinery injured over 40 and closed the facility. The explosion occurred Thursday evening and firefighters were battling fires throughout the facility until early Friday morning.

"A far as we know, it was a sugar dust explosion," said John Sheptor, Imperial’s president and chief executive officer. He said it happened in a storage silo where the refined sugar was stored until packaging.

Authorities estimated that up to 100 people were working at the facility at the time of the explosion. As many as 40 employees were transported to area hospitals and three have been confirmed dead.

"We are all concerned for the welfare of our associates and out thoughts and prayers are with them and their families," Mr. Sheptor said. "We are grateful for the superb response by the local emergency agencies to this tragic event."

Imperial Sugar is based in Sugar Land, Texas, and acquired the Port Wentworth facility in 1997. It is one of two facilities owned by the company. It employs 839. The facility has the capacity to process 63,000 cwts per day and manufactured 14,510,000 cwts in 2007. It has the capacity to store 183,000 tons.

Sugar market implications

Trade sources predicted the loss of cane sugar refining capacity would have an immediate effect on refined sugar prices in the Southeast region, which the Imperial plant in Georgia primarily served. All shipments were suspended from the damaged plant indefinitely and the damage appeared "very significant," a source said.

"It’s bound to have a bullish effect on prices," one trade source said. The plant was responsible for about 60% of Imperial’s cane sugar production.

But raw values may actually decline, sources said, because of the decreased refining capacity. The nearby Sugar 14 March futures contract was down more than 1c a lb in electronic trading in New York this morning.

Sources indicated Imperial’s other plant in Louisiana already was running near capacity and would not be able to pick up much of the lost capacity.

Traders also thought the loss could prompt increased shipments of refined sugar from Mexico, although that sugar likely would move into Texas first.

The immediate problem was one of logistics, trade sources said. There will not be a shortage of sugar long term, but in the short term prices could move higher as refined sugar is moved into the Southeast over the next few weeks.

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