By Kwangmin Ahn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
BEIJING, China — Twenty-one miners were killed in a gas blast at a colliery in southwest China on Thursday.
There were thirty-one miners underground at the time of the blast. Ten workers escaped to safety and all miners known to have been in the pit were accounted for, but search and rescue work was continuing in case there were other unregistered miners working at the time of the blast.
The cause of the explosion is still under investigation. The mine is a small colliery run by a local township government with an annual production capacity of about 150,000 tons.
China’s vast coal mining industry is notoriously accident-prone. Although safety conditions have improved in the last several years, China’s mining industry is by far the world’s deadliest, with accidents and blasts killing more than 2,600 coal miners last year due mainly to lax regulation, corruption, and inefficiency.
The rash of deadly mine accidents caused by poor safety standards and supervision has been traced to China’s rush for commodities to fuel its growing economy.
In March, a flood at the vast, unfinished Wangjialing mine in the northern province of Shanxi left 153 workers trapped underground, but 115 were recovered alive in a rare rescue success for the industry. The head of China’s work safety watchdog said last month that the flood “could completely have been avoided.” The agency said managers had ignored water leaks noted by workers in the days leading up to the disaster. A landslide of sludge triggered by the collapse of a mine dam buried a village in Xiangfen county, Shanxi province, on September 8, 2008.
Accidents are particularly common in China’s coal sector. Safety concerns are widely ignored as China tries to satisfy surging demand for the fuel — the source of about seventy percent of the country’s energy.
Recent developments in other mining cases include criminal sentencing. On Friday, a Chinese court sentenced two policemen to up to five years in jail for taking bribes from the owner of an iron mine, where an accident killed 277 people two years ago. The Fangshan District People’s Court in Beijing sentenced Han Chunxi, 39, the former county police chief, to five years in prison for taking $5,859 in bribes from the mine owner. The court found that he had ordered his subordinates to stop inspections of the mine and abetted the use of mining explosives.
The flood in Shanxi was seen as embarrassing for the government, which has touted a reform program partly aimed at improving safety and shutting dangerous mines.
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Blast rips through China coal mine – 14 May 2010
AFP – China coal mine gas blast kills 21– 13 May 2010