Turkey Ends Mine Disaster Recovery as Final Toll Hits 301

Turkish authorities have detained 24 people in the country’s worst mining disaster, including executives from the company that operates the mine where 301 workers perished in a fire, state-run Anadolu news agency said.

More people may be detained in connection with the accident last week at the coal mine in the western town of Soma, which is run by Soma Komur Isletmeleri AS, a unit of businessman Alp Gurkan’s Soma Holding, Anadolu said. Energy and natural resources ministry officials didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Rescue work ended yesterday after the last two victims were found underground, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said. The mine will remain closed until the cause of the blaze and any potential wrongdoing are determined, he said. Entrances to the mine were sealed with bricks under order from state inspectors, NTV television reported today.

The May 13 accident, which 485 miners survived, has touched off clashes between police and protesters angered by the government’s response. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Soma site passed an inspection last month and that mining accidents are the “nature of the business.”

Turkey has the worst casualty record in the world in the coal mining industry, according to a research paper in 2010 by Tepav, an Ankara-based research center. As of 2008, the number of deaths per 1 million metric tons of coal produced was 7.2 in Turkey, compared with 1.3 in China and 0.02 in the U.S., according to the paper.

Chambers Elective

While the mine didn’t have a rescue chamber, that’s “not obligatory under the mining law,” Gurkan, also chairman of Soma Holding, said at a news conference on May 16. The company will build such rooms in a few months, he said.

The mine’s initial rescue chamber became obsolete and was converted into an escape hatch when the coal shaft expanded in another direction, the mine’s chief, Ramazan Dogru, said at a briefing. Heavy smoke and an electrical failure that knocked out elevators rendered it inaccessible, the company said.

Turkey has an estimated 14 billion tons of coal reserves, and plans to increase the share of power generated from locally produced coal to about 20 percent by 2020 from 14 percent now, according to the Energy Ministry. The Soma mine produces about 2.5 million tons of coal a year, according to Gurkan.

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