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301 killed in Turkish coal mine disaster

14 May 2014

An explosion at a coal mine in western Turkey resulted in a total of 301 deaths, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on May 16. A total of 787 people had been inside the mine at Soma in Manisa province when an electrical fault triggered the blast on May 13, and the minister confirmed that recovery operations had been suspended with no more bodies thought to be in the mine.

Burying the dead - Photo: Shutterstock/fpolat69
Burying the dead - Photo: Shutterstock/fpolat69

Yildiz told journalists that the electrical fault triggered a power cut, making the mine lift cages unusable, and that carbon monoxide poisoning had claimed many lives. The NTV television station said the accident occurred two kilometres below the surface, trapping workers about 4km from the exit. 

This is the worst mining disaster in Turkish history. Until now, the worst mining disaster was in 1992, when 263 miners were killed near Zonguldak on the Black Sea.

The mine's owners, Soma Komur Isletmeleri, said an investigation was under way but the accident occurred despite the "highest safety measures and constant controls".

Lignite coal mining is a major industry in the Soma area, helping to supply a nearby lignite-fired thermal power plant, but safety has long been a concern.

Turkey's Labour and Social Security Ministry said the mine had been inspected five times since 2012, including in March of 2014, and that no issues violating work safety and security were detected.

Hurriyet says the owner of Soma Holding, which controls the Turkish coal mine where an explosion killed at least 245 workers, said they managed to significantly reduce costs after acquiring the mine from the state, speaking in an interview two years ago.

Alp Gürkan, the owner of the conglomerate Soma Holding, told Hürriyet columnist Vahap Munyar that his company managed to reduce the cost of mining coal from $130-140 to $23.8 per ton “thanks to the operation methods of the private sector,” in an interview that was published on Sept. 30, 2012. 

On May 14 there were demonstrations in a number of Turkish cities protesting against the Government’s poor record on occupational safety.

Opposition parties proposed a motion to improve mine safety after the April 29 session, but this was rejected by the government.

According to Hurriyet, Manisa parliamentarian Erkan Akçay from the opposition MHP party gave statistics on mine incidents in Soma during a parliamentary session on April 29.

He said there were 5,000 occupational accidents in Soma district in 2013, of which 90% were in mines. A large number were burn injuries, but hospitals in Soma lack the necessary burn units, and the injured have to be transferred out of area. He said that one mine was finally closed down only after 10 successive accidents.

Akçay also said Turkey topped the occupational accidents list among European countries and ranked third worldwide in terms of accidents.

“Workers die an average of 8.5 times more in Turkey than in the European Union. There were 880,000 occupational accidents between 2002 and 2013, and 13,442 were killed in these accidents,” he said.

He added that 1,235 workers were killed in labour accidents last year, up from 872 in 2002.

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