The search for the final miners caught in a deep mine in Siberia has been called off, as blasts caused 66 deaths. Since then, two more workers are missing in another mine collapse in a neighbouring mine, and the coal mine boss is set to have criminal charges filed against him. The blasts sparked demonstrations of up to 10,000 people in the Siberian coal town, which blocked the Trans-Siberian railway and were eventually broken up by riot police, arresting 28 and injuring many more.
Many killed in mine blasts
The search for the final missing 24 mine workers in Mezhdurechensk in the Kemerovo region about 3,500km east of Moscow has been called off as the concentration of methane in the mine was rising and because fires were still burning deep underground.
The death toll from the explosions two weeks ago has risen to 66, with many victims being rescue workers killed by a second explosion hours after the first one struck. The second blast ripped apart the coal mine’s ventilation shaft and damaged buildings on the surface. The first of two blasts occurred late on May 8 about 500 meters (1,640 feet) underground.
Yesterday, two miners were still missing in a neighbouring pit after dozens were rescued following more mine explosions. 107 miners out of 109 who had been working in the Alexeyevskaya mine were rescued after it collapsed yesterday morning. Final numbers of missing and rescued have still not been released.
Boss faces criminal charges
On Tuesday, Russian prosecutors said they would investigate safety at all coal mines and open a criminal case against the general director of the Raspadskaya mine, who resigned after a rebuke from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. This comes as the safety of Russian mines is yet again in the spotlight following the explosions, the worst incidents in three years and one of the deadliest since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Raspadskaya is owned by steelmaker Evraz, controlled by tycoon Alexander Abramov (40%) and billionaire Roman Abramovich (40%).
Riots and unrest
Following the mine disaster, workers and unions took to the streets in protest at the dangerous working conditions and insufficient pay they are forced to endure. Up to 3,000 people took part, blocking the Trans-Siberian railway and delaying at least 20 trains. State media and the railway company ignored the protests completely and gave no reason for the delays.
Twenty-eight people were arrested when 200 Russian riot police cracked down on the protest – more than 20 people had been injured by late last Friday evening after police clashed with the protesters who threw bottles and rocks in response, injuring up to 17 police officers.
“It is the fault of the authorities that they pushed people onto the rails,” Ivan Mokhnachuk, head of Russia’s independent coal-miners union, told Echo of Moscow on Saturday.
“When people are kept in the dark, when their questions are not answered, when they are left alone, when every day there are dozens of funerals and the authorities do not want to talk, a situation arises where people are displeased,” he added.
Millions of tonnes of Russian coal is imported to Britain each year and burned in the UK’s coal-fired power stations, including coal arriving at Leith port in Edinburgh which is transported by rail to ScottishPower-operated Cockenzie Power Station in East Lothian.
As will mining disasters and human rights abuses common to other places that the UK imports coal from globally, the cheap price paid for by power station operators is paid for by the lives of mine workers in Russia. The UK’s continued reliance on imported coal only maintains the cycle of corruption and malpractice that deny workers fair pay and safe working conditions. Whether it’s ill health caused by mining in Scotland or deaths from unsafe conditions in Russia, power station operators are contributing massively to these global injustices where big business tears communities apart for this cheap fossil fuel.