MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Yet another terrible accident in Siberia

Published by MAC on 2007-05-25

In March this year (as reported on this website) 110 hundred workers died in Russia's worst-ever coal mine disaster. [see: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/Action/press1416.htm]

Almost incredibly, last week another 38 mineworkers went to their death at a nearby Siberian mine - owned by the same company, Yazhkuzbassugol.

Russian authorities have now said they may now close the mine down; recent attempts to do so twice failed, according to the state national safety agency, because they were "overruled by local courts." (Mining Journal, 25 May 2007).

The major steel group, Evraz (whose most important shareholder is the London-based billionaire, Roman Abramovich) holds fifty per cent of Yazhkuzbassugol. Although Evraz says it is now "reviewing" its stake in the coal company, it too has taken no firm steps to prevent similar disasters recurring.

According to the Mining Journal, union officials blamed the tragedies on the payment of bonuses to workers, based on output: the more they dig and the faster they do so, the more dangerous their conditions become.

Mine blast kills 38 in Siberia

Brisbane Times (AP)

25th May 2007

Rescuers pulled the bodies of 38 people from a southern Siberian coalmine after a deadly methane explosion on Thursday - the latest deadly accident to hit Russia's ailing mining industry.

Grieving relatives gathered at the Yubileinaya mine near Novokuznetsk, 3,000 km east of Moscow, searching for loved ones and waiting for officials to identify the dead and treat the seven injured.

The blast at the Yubileinaya mine was the second to hit a mine owned and operated by OAO Yuzhkuzbassugol in two months - prompting a harsh warning from Russian industrial watchdog Rostekhnadzor, which said regional officials had sought to close down the Yubileinaya mine in the past.

"The owner and administration of the mine has repeatedly allowed violations of safety conditions of mine operation," the agency said. It warned that Yuzhkuzbassugol might be stripped of its licence.

The explosion occurred about 520 metres below the surface at the mine, around 7.30am local time (1330 AEST).

A total of 179 miners were either brought to the surface or escaped on their own, emergency department spokeswoman Natalia Lukash said.

Irina Andrianova, another emergency department spokeswoman, said 217 people had been working in the mine at the time of the blast. Her statement that the death toll had risen to 38 appeared to account for all those who had been in the mine.

Aman Tuleev, governor of the Kemerovo region where the mine is located, said the blast may have been caused by the collapse of a coal wall where drilling was taking place. He also called for a change in ownership of the mine.

"If we can't change the company owners, then we will try to revoke the licence of the company," Tuleev was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying.

Yuzhkuzbassugol's ownership is split evenly between the company's management and coal and steel producer Evraz SA, which is partly owned by billionaire Roman Abramovich, and which acquired its 50 per cent in December 2005.

The blast highlighted the hazardous state of Russia's mining industry, which fell into disrepair when government subsidies dried up after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It also comes just over two months after 110 people died in a methane explosion at the Ulyanovskaya mine in the same region, known as the Kuzbass. That blast was the worst accident in more than 60 years in Russia's mines.

In a statement posted on its website, Evraz said it was reviewing its business strategy of investment in Yuzhkuzbassugol, which is a major supplier of coking coal to two Evraz steel mills.

"Aside from this, Evraz, for its part, will review all possibilities for reducing the levels of technological and industrial risks in this coal company," the company said.

On Tuesday, Rostekhnadzor fired or suspended five regional officials in connection with the March blast at the Ulyanovskaya mine.

Evraz SA recently completed the takeover of Oregon Steel in the United States for $US2.3 billion ($2.8 billion), one of the largest investments in the United States by a Russian company.

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