Beijing (AsiaNews) - A fire in a state owned coal mine has killed at least 24 miners from the Hengda Mining Company, in the northeastern province of Liaoning. 52 other workers were injured in the accident, but there is little information about the seriousness of their conditions. It is the latest coal mine massacre, one of the most dangerous sectors in China.
According to preliminary investigations, the fire was
sparked after the coal dust accumulated in the underground tunnels exploded. This explosion was caused
by a slight earthquake - magnitude 1.6 - which directly affected the mine. Rescue operations have ended and production has been suspended.
The mine was opened in 1987 and has an annual production capacity of 1.5 million tons of coal. It employs a total of 4,660 workers, all salaried by the local government. Although the company is owned by the government, under the Fuxin Coal Corporation in Beijing, the internal security measures seem to have been ignored: several accidents have occurred in the same quarry in recent years, some fatal.
Fuxin seem uninterested in the safety of their employees. In February 2005,
a gas explosion in another mine in Liaoning
(again owned by Fuxin) claimed
the lives of 214 miners. The investigation
later showed that local managers "ignored all the safety and health rules": 33 of them were fired.
Coal mining is the most dangerous job in all of China, which relies on the fuel for 70% of its energy needs. Despite the central government's rhetoric and promises, which has repeatedly declared it will pace stringent safety measures on mining activities, illegal mines have sprouted throughout the country. Often the owners do not follow safety rules, and send unprepared people with outdated equipment underground.
According to the latest government statistics, in 2012 1,384 people were killed in mines. In 2011, 1,973 more died, all in accidents in coal mines, a reduction of 19% over the previous year. But human rights groups and Chinese scholars say the figure is much higher: many mine owners, in fact, do not report incidents for fear of economic losses, fines or plant closures.
Very often local authorities are corrupted by bribes to turn a blind eye to the lack of security policies. Mine closures are, under the new President Xi Jinping, another part of the anti-corruption campaign launched by Communist officials.