Major Coal Mine Accident in Shanxi

May 24, 2006 Updated: May 24, 2006

A severe flooding accident at Xinjing coal mine in Shanxi Province, China on May 18 has left many miners stranded, but the actual number remains unknown. The authorities claim only 57 miners are missing, but according to the miners' families, more than 100 are unaccounted for. These miners have been stranded for more than five days; it is unsure whether they are still alive.

The mine owner concealed the number of casualties when the accident happened and has been affirmed that this is a major cover-up. According to the news officially released by the government media, seven people including the mine owner have been arrested.

The safety department has been carrying out rescue work, but there is little chance of finding survivors. The rescue work ran into difficulty on May 22nd—the discharge pipe connections were not completely sealed tight resulting in insufficient water pressure. Therefore, they were unable to drain the water in the mineshaft. Rescue workers are currently working on repairing the pipe.

Truth Behind the Cover-up

On account of reports by the locals, The Voice of America said that, two days after the flooding accident had occurred the head quarter of State Administration of Work Safety had learned that the mine owner covered up the truth—the number of stranded miners had far exceeded the five miners as reported by the owner.

Some miners implied that, after the accident had occurred, the mine owner did not report the incident right away. But instead he organized cars to take miners' families away from the scene to conceal the truth of the accident.

One miner's family member said that they were told they were being taken to nearby hotels. “After we got into the cars, we asked the driver where we were going. He said he did not know.”

Some miners said that they had noticed signs of flooding in the coal mine a few days earlier before the accident happened and reported it to the managers but they did not take any heed.

The Number of Stranded Miners Is Unknown

In this accident, the number of miners working in the mineshaft and the number of stranded miners have not been confirmed. The accident happened at 8:30 pm on May 18, the Xinjing mine first reported that only five were stranded. Later on, as the safety department discovered that the mine owner had concealed the exact number of missing miners, the official announcement gradually increased the number of stranded miners to 44 and 57. But according to the miners and their families, the number of stranded miners far exceeded these numbers and was most likely to be more than 100.

Central News Agency reported that, nearly 800 families, around 3000 people, resided in the area of Xinjing's mines. One miner said, when the accident occurred, there were a total of five contract teams working in the mineshaft. Each team had around 40 workers, therefore, the stranded number of miners would be more than 57. The actual number still remains to be confirmed by investigators.

Some media also pointed out that, this mine accident in Shanxi province is the worst in China this year.

It is hard to prevent mine accidents due to a combination of huge monetary gains and the lure of power.

Mine accidents continue to happen in China. Last Friday, just a few days before this accident, eighteen mine owners were prosecuted for flooding accident that occurred last August that killed 120 miners at Daxing coal mine in Xingning County in Guangdong Province.

The Voice of America said that, as a result of the substantial increase in the international coal price, mine owners have the opportunity to obtain exorbitant profits by collaborating illegally with the local authorities. This is one of the reasons coal mine accidents have been occurring frequently in China.

Hong Kong current affairs commentator Cao Jingxing, a professor at Beijing University, said, “The most difficult problem at the moment under the present system in China is that the interest structure has changed, that is, after the integration of local interest, local power and mine owners under specific background, it may become an independent empire. A place with a coal mine, one may take advantage of some of the enormous profit to make the place a black union body of power and money.”