Former owner warned state, Soma Coal Mining about deadly risks

Former owner warned state, Soma Coal Mining about deadly risks

Former owner warned state, Soma Coal Mining about deadly risks

AA Photo

A senior executive of the former operator of the Soma mine, where 301 workers lost their lives in a May 13 disaster, said they had warned the state-run coal mining company about risks of fires, but the notice was ignored.

Park Holding had officially warned Turkish Coal Enterprises (TKİ) about the risks and suggested cutting a gallery’s connections by using cement, opening a new track for air and staff, but did not manage get an approval for either issue, Selim Şenkal, then-manager of the company told Hürriyet.

Şenkal, who today is a vice general manager at Hattat Holding’s Amasra mines in the Black Sea region said this was why they withdrew from the mine.

“We had undertaken the 15-million-ton reserve underground facility, committing to produce 1.5 tons annually for 10 years. It was under the same conditions with today’s facility, but when we started working we found problems,” he said.

One of the problems, he said, was a large amount of coal between two levels of operation, which would heat up in time and cause fires, while the other risk was the placement of the main gallery, which stood in a coal covered area.

The ventilation area and the staff entrance had been dug in a coaled area, and these places should have been isolated from coal by using concrete, in addition to the need for extra connections to the outside, he said.

However, the TKİ responded that “nothing would happen,” according to Şenkal.

The company used nitrogen in cooling to avoid fires in its term of operation, but still experienced a fire incident, he added.

Failing to stabilize the mine after the fire, the company transferred the mine to the TKİ in 2009, before it was passed over to Soma Coal Mining Company with a new tender.

Park Holding also warned the new owner about the high risks of the facility, he added.

“I have worked as a mining engineer for 32 years. The hardest era was in Soma. I carried my bed to the mine. No Soma managers can sleep,” he said.

Recognizing the risks, the TKİ had authorized the new firm to work on the layer in the middle, but this never happened because the fire continued burning for about three years, he said.

The doubtful Şenkal said he thought the production capacity could have been exceeded.

The engineer also projected that the Soma mine would not be re-opened, as no private firms would undertake such risks.

The company’s chairman Can Gürkan and General Manager Ramazan Doğru are still under arrest along with several others.

Were complaint calls deleted, CHP asks

Meanwhile, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) placed a parliamentary question directed to Labor Minister Faruk Çelik about the hotline calls to the ministry about concerns regarding the mine. Whether it was true that some 80 calls were made by miners about risks, but the ministry ignored them, Tanrıkulu questioned. He also asked if these calls were deleted later.

Another question was on whether the complainant miners were harassed by the company.