Friday, 5 December 2014

Turkey Recovers Last Bodies From Flooded Ermenek Coal Mine

Turkish rescue workers recovered the last of 18 bodies trapped inside a flooded coal mine on Thursday, as efforts to extract the workers reached a grim conclusion nearly six months after the country’s deadliest mining catastrophe.

The six-week push to extract workers at the Ermenek mine in southern Anatolia’s Karaman province was complicated by flowing water underground which shifted the bodies around the mine, according to Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.

Initial findings suggest that the Ermenek mine flooded after yearslong water buildup in old galleries breached pressure thresholds, triggering an explosion, the local public prosecutor’s office said last month.

While the latest disaster pales in comparison to the fire at the country’s Soma coal mine in the western province of Manisa that killed 301 workers in May, it rekindled a debate about safety standards in Turkish industry.

The government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had to fend off criticism for its failure to reverse the industry’s dire record. Workplace fatalities have continued since the Ermenek accident, including the death of two Chinese workers when a mine in the Black Sea region caved-in. This year more than 350 miners have died in workplace accidents and disasters, more than triple the 95 deaths in 2013.

“The energy lobby in Turkey is strong and merciless,” said Ozgur Ozel, a main-opposition Republican People’s Party lawmaker from Manisa.

“The responsibility is on the government, and there is an administrative side of this. We have a mind-blowing, careless situation at hand that doesn't value the lives of people,” said Mr. Ozel.

The government must take steps to bolster oversight of mines, end subcontracting that puts inexperienced personnel down mine shafts, and adopt international labor conventions, he said in a telephone interview.

Ankara has focused attention on alleged failings of management of the mining companies. The government has pledged to draw up new regulations after the back-to-back disasters, having already reacted to criticism of its handling of the Soma disaster by reducing length of mining-industry shifts to six hours a day from eight.

“We see what kind of results a possible neglect can lead to,” Mr. Yildiz said previously in televised remarks from Ermenek at an earlier point in the search.

“In both Soma and here. there are faults. And whether it is on the private sector, the public sector, or whoever, [they] must definitely have a response.”

Turkey has ramped up inspections and halted operations at 68 mines, more than half of the 111 locations under review after identifying dangerous working conditions, said Halil Etyemez, a deputy at the Labor and Social Security Ministry, in comments carried by the state news agency, Anadolu.

The Ermenek mine’s operator, Has Sekerler Madencilik, said in a statement last month that the deadly accident appeared to be a natural disaster, a finding that Mr. Yildiz has publicly rejected. The company also maintains that it fulfilled all workplace safety requirements and had passed necessary inspections.

Friday 5 December 2014


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