(Recasts with COFCO statement)

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 27 (Reuters) – An explosion at a grains terminal in Argentina owned by China’s COFCO International on Wednesday killed one employee, injured others and affected shipping activities from one of the world’s top food suppliers, the conglomerate said in a statement.

Television images showed thick black smoke billowing from what COFCO described as a 52,000-square-meter grains processing plant. The facility is part of Argentina’s sprawling shipping hub of Rosario, on the Parana River in Santa Fe province.

“COFCO International can confirm that an explosion occurred at the loading area of its facilities at Puerto General San Martin in Rosario,” said a statement issued by the Chinese state-run conglomerate.

One employee died in the blast, the statement said, and eight others were taken to hospital for treatment.

“The cause of the incident is not yet known,” the statement said. Local police, firefighters and other authorities provided no additional details.

“The affected site has been shut down,” it said, adding that COFCO had launched “a full internal investigation.” The storage and crushing facility received 27,000 tonnes of grain per day.

It has grains warehousing capacity of 295,000 tonnes and soymeal storage capacity is 105,000 tonnes.

The facility was previously owned by Dutch grain trader Nidera, which COFCO agreed to buy in 2014. This acquisition and other mergers projected COFCO into some of the world’s top grain, vegetable oil, sugar and coffee producing regions.

Argentina is the world’s top exporter of soymeal livestock feed as well as a major supplier of corn and raw soybeans. Soy is in high demand in China as the country’s growing middle class develops a taste for meal-fed beef and pork.

Some 80 percent of Argentina’s agricultural exports are sent from Rosario. Cargo ships loaded at the hub sail down the Parana on their way to the shipping lanes of the South Atlantic. (Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen in Buenos Aires; Editing by Tom Brown and James Dalgleish)