Turkey’s illegal mines put thousands at risk
DHA PhotoAs Turkish mines and safety codes come under the spotlight after the May 13 Soma disaster, which claimed 301 lives, miners around the country are also suffering in illegal mines that put thousands of lives at risk every day.
Illegal coal mines, where more money can often be made due to the low overheads, are most commonly found in Turkey's coal mining capital, the Black Sea province of Zonguldak.
Along with men, women and even children aged 15 or 16 often work in the primitive facilities, where conditions are much worse than the conditions for the 9,500 people working at official Turkish Hard Coal Authority (TTK) facilities in the province, or the 4,500 others at private mines.
Illegal mining is particularly common in the forested areas of the city of Zonguldak and in the nearby towns of Kilimli, Kozlu and Gelik. Small mines hidden by trees are even dug in the gardens of houses and typically employ three or four people.
A ton of illegal coal is generally sold for 150-200 Turkish Liras, half the price of the legal commodity.
Illumination at these mines is often very basic, and in many the miners settle for the safety lights on their helmets.
According to official figures, a total of 114 people have been killed in accidents at illegal mines since 1992, though the unofficial figure is thought to be much higher.
TTK officials found a total of 1,849 illegal mines between 2008 and 2013 in Zonguldak and destroyed them with dynamite. Another 62 were found and closed in the first three months of this year.
E., who declined to give his full name, is one of the hundreds of illegal mine owners in the province, employing three others who work at his mine. He has been in the business for a decade, and his miners dig two to three tons of hard coal every day. Salaries stand at around 1,500 to 2,000 Turkish Liras.
He told Hürriyet that he worked the mine as he could find no other business in the area. “No one has died at my mine. We only had a few small accidents,” he said, adding that he knew many other "coal smugglers" across Zonguldak.
“If I knew that there was coal under my house, and it was enough to buy a new house. I would dig for it,” he said.
A.K., 54, a former illegal coal mine owner, is now an employee at an illegal mine. He has been working at mines since he was 7 or 8, the father of four told Hürriyet.
He said that officials spotted a mine where he was working in October 1987, but he did get caught. “They blew it up with dynamite. They did not know I was inside,” he said, adding that his face was heavily injured in the incident and required a platinum plate.
“We are afraid but we have to [dig]. Because there are no other jobs,” he said.