The owner of the Soma mine has denied any negligence in the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history, while admitting that a refuge chamber that could have saved lives had not yet been constructed. Soma Holding head Alp Gürkan (above) said that mining operations would continue after “shortcomings are addressed” following a mining accident which happened on 13th May, Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’ reports.
The fire which came after an explosion at the power distribution unit has, so far, claimed 292 lives. 18 men are still trapped underground.
“There was no negligence on our side. I have worked in mines for 20 years, and I did not witness such an incident [here on 13th May],” said Akın Çelik, the operating manager of the Soma Coal Mining Company, during a press conference yesterday.
Asked if the company would continue to operate the mine, Gürkan said: “Of course. After all the measures are taken and the missing room [for the refuge chamber] is built, this operation will continue. Legally, we don’t have an obligation to build a refuge chamber. But we would have completed it in three-four months if this accident hadn’t happened.”
The companies representatives have admitted that there was no refuge chamber in the mine, but added that there was an escape point close to ground level, allowing workers to exit without walking the 300 meters to the main entrance.
At one time when the mine was first opened, there was one refuge chamber which could hold 500 people in the heart of the mine, however, that was closed off when production in that part of the mine ceased.
Executives claim that preparations were being made to build refuge chamber to deeper parts of the mine where production was under way. They said that had the accident happened three or four months later the refuge chambers would have been completed and the workers would have survived.
Company representatives have admitted that they do not know the reason for the accident, describing the fire as being technically inexplicable. They said that no flames had come from the explosion at the power distribution unit and the fire had been caused by the high temperature of the coal.
“The incident happened in three to five minutes. The gas filled everywhere in five minutes,” Çelik added.
Gürkan, also said they had made the necessary investments to ensure the safety of workers. “We have spent our income to improve working conditions to avoid possible accidents,” Gürkan said, while refusing to answer questions from journalists.
Çelik also confirmed that there were 787 workers inside the mine when the disaster occurred. He said that 363 workers managed to escape the mine after the accident, while another 122 were rescued injured and transferred to nearby hospitals.
Officials have declined to provide a list of the 787 workers, saying they do not have the authority to release it publicly as all data has been delivered to Turkey’s disaster agency, AFAD.
Along with the compensation required by law, plans are being put in place to support the families of the victims, Gürkan said. The company will cover the cost of educating the victims’ children and other costs, Gürkan added.
The Soma coal mine, which is the region’s largest facility employing up to 6,500 workers, was privatised at the end of the 1970s.
The mining accident is the worst to date and proves that health and safety standards in the Turkish mining industry lead many people to work in a dangerous place with ineffective supervision, lack of safety controls and unsafe working conditions. As recent data indicates, there is no legally binding international contract that puts the mining industry under international control.
Turkish daily ‘Sabah’ reports that according to International Labour Organisation (ILO) data, conventions ratified by Turkey do cover conditions related to social security, safety and health at work. However, the convention on the mining industry has not been ratified by Turkey. While being free of ultimate control mechanisms, Turkey has rejected ratifying the ILO’s Safety and Health in Mines Convention No.1761, which entered into force in 1998. As of 2013, 29 countries have ratified the mines convention.