MAC/20: Mines and Communities

How many Chinese lives is a Westerner's worth?

Published by MAC on 2010-12-21
Source: Shanghai Daily, Xinhua

How many Chinese lives is a Westerner's worth?

Twenty six miners were killed by a coal mine gas explosion in China's Henan province last week.

The disaster went almost unrecorded in the world at large.

Yet the death toll was on a par with ones in the US and New Zealand over the past year, and which have merited international banner headlines.

Greedy officials shield small outlaw coal mines

Shanghai Daily

14 December 2010

WEI Baoyuan, deputy head of Mianchi County in central China's Henan Province, was going on and on, lauding his local government's improvements in coal mine safety

"Please stop praising yourself. If you've done a commendable job, why did the accident happen?" asked Liu Guoji, an official with the provincial discipline inspection commission probing a recent deadly gas blast in a mine in Mianchi.

Wei was addressing a work conference about the accident last Tuesday when 26 miners were killed at the Juyuan Coal Mine in Mianchi. The mine is being merged into the Yi Ma Coal Industry Group, a state-owned conglomerate in Henan. As the mine's assets have not yet been transferred, its ownership has not changed.

The blast was the third such accident at a coal mine undergoing mergers and acquisitions this year in Henan, China's fourth-largest coal-producing province. Since March, Henan has launched a massive campaign of coal mine mergers and acquisitions as a way to boost efficient use of resources and reduce safety risks.

The mine consolidation program has also been launched in major coal regions of Shanxi, Shaanxi, Shandong provinces and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. As a result, the country's coal output was temporarily reduced and prices were pushed up, especially in the winter when coal is needed for heating.

Lured by profits, some small mines, like Juyuan, which is under workplace renovation, secretly resumed operations. An initial investigation found the Juyuan mine had been officially closed for workplace renovations as part of the merger, and its operation should not have resumed before safety hazards were dealt with.

On the day of the accident, the mine owner, surnamed Suo, ordered miners into the mine, when a supervisor sent to the mine by Yi Ma Coal Industry Group was taking a one-month training course 200 kilometers away in Jiaozuo City. After the accident, Suo allegedly concealed the bodies of four victims in the shaft and fled. He was apprehended and is not being interrogated by police.

While the investigators were struggling to figure out the exact number of trapped miners, Zhao Xuanming, who was familiar with the situation, kept silent.

Zhao, an official assigned by the county government to supervise safety at the Juyuan Coal Mine, failed to quickly report the accident to higher authorities.

He, too, was detained by police, and investigators believe there was a high likelihood of collusion between Zhao and the mine owner.

Moreover, the coal mining is crucial in the economic development of some counties, and the production shortfall shrank the fiscal revenues of county governments.

Investigators said local governments' over-reliance on the coal industry would easily lead to lax safety supervision.

Also, executives with the Yi Ma Coal Industry Group, Juyuan's prospective parent company, admitted that they had failed to properly supervise Juyuan's safety conditions. Wu Yulu, president of the Yi Ma Coal Industry Group, said the group was merging 79 coal mines, but all of them had not yet transferred their assets.

Wu said those mines had problems with technology, equipment and management, and Juyuan needed no less than a year to remove all the safety hazards.

According to the statistics from the Shanxi coal mine safety agency, to produce the same amount of coal, a small coal mine would claim 10 times more lives of its miners than a large coal mine.

In 2009, 2,631 people died in coal mine accidents in China.

Company managers punished for gas blast in illegally operated coal mine killing 26 in central China


13 December 2010

ZHENGZHOU - Seven company executives were suspended from duty or removed Monday after 26 miners were killed in a gas explosion in an illegally operated coal mine on Dec. 7 in central China's Henan Province, according to the group's spokesman.

Forty-six miners were working underground when the blast occurred at the Juyuan Coal Mine, owned by Juyuan Coal Industry Co., Ltd. in Mianchi County, Sanmenxia City. The company is being merged into Yi Ma Coal Industry Group.

Deputy general manager, Li Jianxin, of Yi Ma Coal Industry Group, the mine's prospective parent company, was suspended from duty pending investigation. Li was in charge of the group's merger and regrouping, said the group's spokesman.

Manager Yao Nianshou and four deputy managers who were sent by the group to Juyuan Coal Industry Co., Ltd. were also removed, he said.

The spokesman said the decisions to discipline the executives have been approved by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of Henan Province. The final punishment for those responsible for the incident will be decided based on the findings of the on-going investigation.

Managers of the Juyuan Coal Mine did not obtain a license to excavate coal from the site in Mianchi County, where the explosion occurred. Mine managers also ignored an order to halt production, as the mine's operations are being reorganized as part of the merger.

The mine had been known as the Suzhuang Coal Mine and was later re-launched as Juyuan when it was merged into the large state-owned conglomerate Yi Ma Coal Industry Group.

Police said they arrested the owner of the mine, Suo Yonggang, who allegedly hid the bodies of the victims to lessen the casualty count. Suo fled the mine following the blast.

Mine managers first reported that only 20 miners were trapped when the blast occurred. Provincial work safety authorities updated the figure to 33 and then to 46 as investigators found more bodies in the mine. Only 20 miners survived.

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