MAC: Mines and Communities

Football tycoon's investment lies behind Russia's worst mine disaster

Published by MAC on 2007-03-20

The worst accident in the Russian coal mine industry occurred last week, culling the lies of at least 106 workers. Reportedly it was a "modern" mine. However, its 50% owner, the Evraz steel group, was recently served with the biggest penalty for environmental violations in the country's history.

Evraz's main shareholder (41%) is Roman Abramovich, now Russia's richest oligarch, although his home is in the leafy British home county of Surrey, and his greatest pleasure is cheering on the on the Chelsea foothall team which he bought up in 2003.

106 dead in mine disaster

Aggregate Research Institute

20th March 2007

Up to 106 bodies were pulled from a Russian mine and four workers were still missing after a methane-gas blast caused post-Soviet Russia's worst mining accident, authorities said Tuesday.

Of the 203 workers underground when the blast shook the Ulyanovsk longwall mine in Siberia's Kemerovo region on Monday, officials had earlier reported 93 had been rescued.

Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry reported 106 bodies had been recovered, while rescue workers on the mine's site, 3,000 kilometres east of Moscow, said 104 bodies had been found, Itar-Tass reported.

Four people, the ministry said, were unaccounted for.

Among the dead were a British banker examining the mine and most of the mine's directors, the Kemerovo region governor, Aman Tuleyev, was quoted as saying.

The banker was identified by Kemerovo authorities as Ian Robertson, an employee of consulting and technology firm IMC. The British Embassy in Moscow, however, could not confirm that.

Three days of mourning - March 22-24 - were declared in the region.

While the cause of the blast remained unclear Tuesday afternoon, Russia's Prosecutor General's Office said it was "established that the explosion occurred during an equipment check," adding that a methane-gas or coal-dust blast caused the mine's face to collapse.

Kemerovo region prosecutors opened an investigation into neglect of safety procedures, and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, speaking from South Africa, said Monday that a government commission would investigate the explosion as well.

Fradkov also promised "tough measures" to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Russian ecological officials on Tuesday said they saw "no clear technical reasons" for the blast but were investigating a slip in the mine's foundation or problems with the mine's design, Itar-Tass reported.

Rescue teams were working in the galleries that had been hardest hit by the blast at the Ulyonovsk longwall mine, Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

"We are proceeding carefully," he said, according to Interfax.

The work of more than 200 rescuers was initially hindered by smoke and coal dust blocking the mine's emergency exits, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova said.

Conditions in the mine for the rescue workers had somewhat improved by early Tuesday, however, an official in the Kemerovo regional administration told Interfax.

"The ventilation in the shafts is better," Yevgeny Rostalnoy said. "The gas is receding."

Doctors were looking after the families of the miners, he added.

The Ulyanovsk mine is one of the most modern mines in the coal- heavy area of central Siberia known as the Kuzbass, a Soviet-era industrial centre where coal has been mined for more than 150 years.

The mine has been in operation since 2002, produces 3 million tons of coal annually and is owned by Yuzhkuzbassugol, a subsidiary of Evraz metals group.

Many of the region's mines date back to Soviet times and have reported a number of accidents in recent years. In 2005, 25 people died in a single mine explosion, and 47 perished in a blast in 2004.

In 1997, the final toll of what had been the worst mine explosion in the region since Soviet times was put at 67.

Putin wants answers after three Russian tragedies


20th March 2007

MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin ordered on Tuesday a special Kremlin inquiry into the three tragedies to hit Russia since the weekend, as he sought to show leadership in a moment of national grief.

A plane crash, mine disaster and retirement home fire have claimed nearly 200 lives at three separate locations across the country in a matter of days, highlighting the country's lax safety standards and strained emergency services. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov will lead the high-level probe into the incidents and see if any lessons can be drawn from them.

"You have to do your best to investigate the reasons at the highest level ... and to draw corresponding conclusions," said Putin, speaking at a military commission meeting where a minute's silence was held for those who died in the disasters.

Putin has been criticised for being slow to issue a public response to past tragedies, including the 2000 Kursk submarine sinking in which 118 sailors died and the 2004 Beslan school siege that killed more than 300 people. But he was quick to show empathy with the victims of the latest accidents. "The information about this terrible tragedy at the Ulyanovskaya pit echoes in the hearts of Russians with pain," said Putin in a message of condolence.

The president also expressed his pain at the death of the elderly people, promising an examination of the anti-fire protection systems in the building. The role of the emergency services has already been raised in relation to the crash of an ageing commercial jet in Samara at the weekend. Although just six of the 57 people on board perished, survivors told of being strapped upside down in the wreckage for 20 minutes before they were rescued.


Although emergency teams were quick to the site of the mine accident in the Kemerovo region of Siberia, it was too late to help at least 106 miners, managers and a visiting British geologist who died in the methane explosion deep under ground.

The regional prosecutor's office there has already opened its own inquiry, suspecting breaches of mining rules were to blame for the tragedy in one of the country's most modern coal mines.

In the third incident, 62 residents and staff at a retirement home died in a fire in a remote village in the South of the country in the Krasnodar region, mostly from suffocation. It took nearly an hour for emergency services to reach the scene, more than 50 km (30 miles) from the nearest large town. In the first of the sudden spate of accidents, a 30-year-old Tu-134 flipped as it landed in heavy fog on Saturday.

Six passengers were killed when the fuselage broke apart. Survivors claimed it was a miracle more did not die. They also complained that they had to free themselves from the wreckage.

The carrier, Utair, blamed poor weather for the crash, although Russian media have reported that the crew had earlier warned of problems with the plane's avionics. The model is being phased out of service.

At the Ulyanovskaya Mine in Western Siberia, the dangerous state of the tunnels, nearly 300 metres underground, continued to hamper efforts to find more survivors from Monday's blast.

There have been at least 10 serious accidents at Russia's mines in the past decade, but the latest incident was the worst since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In the last of the incidents, locked emergency exits were blamed for causing many of the 62 deaths at a remote state-run old people's home. Staff had also been slow to contact emergency services, which further delayed their reaction in reaching the scene in the Kuban region in the south of the country.

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