Hundreds killed in Turkey mine blast


More than 205 miners were killed on Tuesday in western Turkey after an explosion at a coal mine.

Hundreds more are still trapped underground, said Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Taner Yildiz.

He added that more than 360 miners have already been rescued, but that 787 workers were in the mine at the time of the accident, raising fears that the number of casualties could be even higher.

According to early reports, an electrical failure caused an explosion in the early afternoon of Tuesday. A fire broke out and parts of the mine subsequently collapsed, leaving miners stranded in the underground galleries.

Oxygen had to be pumped into the mine, and many of the rescued miners showed signs of respiratory problems.

“We’re dealing with carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide poisoning,” Yildiz said on Turkish television.

Hundreds of people promptly showed up at the mine, located near the town of Soma, in the province of Manisa, and at city’s hospital in hopes of news from their loved ones.

Three days of national mourning have been declared by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is expected in Soma later today.


Dangerous mines

The mine in Soma produces lignite (also known as soft brown coal), a major industry in the region, and is owned by Soma Komur Isletmeleri A.S, of Soma Holding.

The company claims to be the largest underground coal producer in Turkey, with an underground yearly production of approximately six million tons.

On Wednesday, their website displayed a short statement reading:

“Despite frequent and detailed inspections, this accident happened and we intervened immediately. We are investigating how it started but our first priority is to rescue our workers so that they can recover soon and return to their loved ones and families.”

The Turkish Labour and Social Security Ministry indicated that the mine was inspected five times since 2012, including in March, and that no security problems were detected.

But some miners have argued otherwise, saying the mine failed to meet basic security requirements.

Although Turkey has a very poor record of mine security, and explosions like these are not uncommon, accidents on this scale are rare.

The worst mining accident in Turkish history occurred in 1992, when a gas explosion in the mine of Zonguldak, in the Black Sea region, claimed the lives of 263 miners.

A Turkish report also indicates that for every 100 million of tons of coal produced, 900 workers die, compared to between one and six people in the United States.

In a statement, IndustriALL Global Union described the mine deaths as “carnage” and wrote that “Turkey has possibly the worst safety record in terms of mining accidents and explosions in Europe and the third worst one in the world.”

The organisation, which counts amongst its affiliates the Mineworkers’ Union of Turkey, also calls on the Turkish government to “immediately ratify and implement ILO’s (International Labour Organisation) Convention 176 on Safety and Health in Mines to save the lives of mine workers. The ‘killing’ must stop.”

40 per cent of the world’s electricity needs come from coal says the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Demand for the fossil fuel will continue to grow at an average rate of 2.3 per cent per year through 2018 indicates the IEA’s Medium-Term Coal Market Report, released in December, driven mostly by fast-growing economies like China.

IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven stated: “Like it or not, coal is here to stay for a long time to come.”