Minister says Karaman mining accident no ‘natural disaster’ as poor safety record revealed

Minister says Karaman mining accident no ‘natural disaster’ as poor safety record revealed

Minister says Karaman mining accident no ‘natural disaster’ as poor safety record revealed

Relatives of miners sit outside the Ermenek coal mine as search and rescue work to rescue miners from the flooded coal mine continues, Oct. 30. AFP Photo

Efforts were still ongoing to rescue the 18 workers still trapped underground at a mine in Turkey’s Karaman province on Oct. 31, as officials adopted a harsher tone against the company operating the site, which had described the flooding of the facility as a “natural disaster.”

“I beg your pardon, but this is no natural disaster,” Energy Minister Taner Yıldız told reporters on Oct. 30.

“We have to share the situation accurately with the public. We can call a flooding a natural disaster if it happens after causes that we can’t control, such as an earthquake. But this is not a natural disaster, and where there is no natural disaster there is a fault,” he added.

Rescue works have been focused on reducing the amount of water inside the gallery, though there have been no signs of life from the 18 miners trapped since Oct. 28.

The company operating the mine, Has Şekerler Mining, rejected responsibility for the accident in a statement issued on Oct. 30, assuring that all necessary safety measures had been taken. “A natural disaster is being mentioned, according to the information provided by our brothers who survived,” the statement said.

124 complaints against owner

However, it has been revealed that the owner of the flooded mine, Saffet Uyar and his family, have in recent years been the subject of a total of 124 complaints to the Labor Ministry by workers employed in different facilities.

Labor Minister Faruk Çelik said a total of 1,120 accidents had happened in the last five years in a single mine owned by the same family in the Aegean coal capital of Soma. Six miners died in those accidents, Çelik said, adding that the company did not facilitate monitoring works.

The company eventually closed the Darkale mine, saying it was difficult to improve safety conditions due to the mine’s age.  

Meanwhile, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) questioned how the same family could operate in the same sector with different company names. “After they closed Darkale, they concentrated on Ermenek. This company has many debts, including to the electricity administration, but the state is unable to make them pay. The companies established by the same family change their names, but the results are the same,” CHP Manisa deputy Erkan Akçay said.

Both Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have recently vowed to introduce new measures to improve the conditions of workers, with the government’s labor policies under the spotlight since the mining disaster in Soma that took the lives of 301 workers in May.