KIEV, July 31 – Thirty four coal miners were killed and six injured Friday in two separate accidents at coalmines in Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the latest setback to Ukraine’s plans to expand coal output.
President Viktor Yanukovych suspended his vacation in Crimea and traveled to the regions on Friday to visit the crippled coalmines, urging a thorough investigation into both accidents.
Twenty six coal miners were killed and two injured after a powerful methane gas explosion had hit the Sukhodolnaya-Vostochnaya mine in the Luhansk region, the Emergency Situations Ministry reported.
The blast, which occurred around 1:57 a.m. Friday about 915 meters deep inside the mine, prompted urgent evacuation of 224 coalminers working in other parts of the mine, the ministry said.
But hours later another accident crippled the Bazhanova coal mine in the Donetsk region, when elevating equipment had collapsed, throwing a bucket with 15 miners in a freefall. Eleven miners were killed and four were seriously injured.
“I would like you to take a look at circumstances of the tragedy from the legal point of view,” Yanukovych told Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka at a meeting in Luhansk region. “We need to see if there were any violations of the law.”
Yanukovych also urged investigators to check the coal mine’s production schedule and whether the coal mine had broken safety rules and whether its management had been responsible.
The development is a setback to the plans by the government to expand the coal mining sector as a way of reducing dependence on imports of expensive natural gas from Russia.
Ukraine, which has the largest coal deposits in Europe and the fourth largest in the world, has enough coal in its soil to meet its energy demand during the next 400 years, according to the government.
Both coal mines, Sukhodolnaya-Vostochnaya and Bazhana, were shut down and hundreds of their coal miners had been evacuated to the surface. The mines will be kept shut until clearance from investigators that their operation is safe.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who also visited the coalmines, said Sunday it will take at least 16 months to repair the Bazhanova coalmine.
“There is a plan to repair the coalmines that will take 16 months,” Azarov said. “We will make sure that it becomes safe.”
Azarov said the Bazhanova accident had most likely taken place due to “negligence” of those who was supposed to check safety and condition of the elevating equipment, which had been originally built in 1960s.
“The coalminers simply could not assess the level of danger, but my question is why hasn’t the management of the coal mine checked the safety of this structure?” Azarov said.
A special government commission, led by the energy and coal industry minister Yuriy Boyko, was created to investigate both accidents.
Ukrainian coal mines are believed to be some of the world’s most dangerous due to the depth of coal extraction - often exceeding 1,000 meters - and due to the abundance of methane gas that comes with the coal deposits in the area, analysts said.
Frequent methane gas explosions kill and injure hundreds of coal miners annually.
Ukraine’s coal output increased by 10.2% year-on-year to 40.69 million metric tons in January-June, up from 36.93 million mt extracted in January-June 2010, according to the energy and coal industry ministry. (sb/ez)