IBRAHIM – Diligent inspections might have saved disaster victims in Soma

Diligent inspections might have saved disaster victims in SomaThe Eynez coal mine in Manisa’s Soma district had been inspected by both the Energy Ministry and the Labor and Social Security Ministry a couple of months before the disaster in which at least 301 miners lost their lives on May 13 but neither ministry found any irregularities, a fact which has aroused suspicions that the inspections were not carried out with sufficient care.News of a Labor Ministry report of its inspection of the Soma mine has been circulated in the Turkish media The ministry has turned a deaf ear to calls to unveil its inspection report so far, possibly because whatever is written in this report will spark a strong popular reaction since it failed to pinpoint the cause of the accident which resulted in the miners’ deaths.

The Labor Ministry report’s one-page summary bears the signatures of mining engineers Emin GumuI and Ersin Bulut and clearly states that there were no problems in the mine. The inspection was carried out for only four days between March 13-18 in cooperation with AkIn elik, the plant manager of the coal mine.

Minister elik passed the buck to the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry on Tuesday on the grounds that mines are not under his ministry’s control. In an interview with the Cumhuriyet daily, known to have an anti-government editorial stance, elik said the Labor Ministry’s duties towards the mining industry are limited to inspections and licenses, but the mines’ actual operations come within the responsibility of the Energy Ministry.

His ministry’s report on Soma concerns mainly details such as job safety and working conditions. In the same interview, elik mentioned that the mine had been inspected eight times in the previous four years.

Speaking on Wednesday in Parliament, Faruk elik this time defended the government against criticisms of negligence in the Soma disaster and said current standards for coal mining in Turkey are “well-developed.” The minister said there are 160 coal mines in Turkey and each one is inspected by the Labor Ministry twice a year “We [the government] ordered 54 mines to halt operations in 2013 after our inspectors found safety flaws in these mines.

another seven have been shut down since the beginning of this year,” he added.elik said he acknowledges criticisms that there are problems with coal extraction methods in Turkey.

“Labor Ministry inspectors do their best to prevent accidents at mines but inspections that are made on the spot [at mining sites] are temporary solutions and that is why the law requires mining firms to employ job safety experts,” he said. The minister also confirmed that an investigation will soon get under way over the claims of negligence in mining inspections, particularly in SomaAccording to the report over the latest inspection in March, Soma Holding is defined as the operator of the mine, indicating that responsibility belongs to the political authorities since the license is owned by the state.

The mine is run by Soma Holding under the “rdovans” system The Turkish word is derived from the French word “redevance,” meaning “royalty,” and the system provides for a usufructuary tenancy that centers on licensing a mine for a certain period of time in return for a percentage of its profits. This doesn’t fit into any known modes of privatization and hence the mine owner is the Turkish Coal Enterprises (TKI), which also provides a guarantee to purchase all the output extracted by the mine.

Additionally, the Energy Minister is defined in the country’s mining laws as the main body shouldering the responsibility for all mining activities and inspections for the technical and operational aspects of mines and license-holder companies. The General Directorate of Mining Affairs (MIGEM) is the institution designated to carry out inspections but there are serious suspicions over its effectiveness.

For instance, a 2011 report by the State Audit Institution (DDK), which works on the instructions of the country’s president, stated that MIGEM does not have up-to-date records on how many coal mines are active across the country or which companies are running more than one coal mine. “For this reason, it is not possible to know how many active coal mines there are in the country or if those mines are operating in accordance with safety regulations,” said the report.

MIGEM must send a delegation of inspectors including at least one financial expert, one mining engineer and one geology engineer to examine mines. Sources close to Soma Holding say that MIGEM inspected the mine only two months ago, long after the start of the fire which is thought to have caused the disaster The energy minister said in a press conference on Tuesday that the cause of the disaster was a deep-seated fire ignited for unknown reasons about a year ago and that measures to put it out had apparently proved inadequate.

The fire continued burning the coal inside the ore until the pressurized poisonous gases escaped and filled the underground tunnels.’Selling us for a bottle of rakI’Insufficient inspections are almost an endemic problem in the mines and are nothing new to the miners in Soma Mustafa YavaI, an ex-worker at the mine, says during his 17-year career underground, he never saw a full assessment of the conditions of the mines by the ministry experts.

Speaking to the Zaman daily, YavaI claimed that the inspectors “were selling us for a bottle of rakI [an alcoholic drink].”The opposition in Parliament had warned the government over the possible consequences of the willful ignorance of poor conditions in mines.

A Manisa deputy for the main opposition Republican people’s Party (CHP) submitted a motion in Parliament only several months prior to the disaster asking for a detailed inspection into Soma coal mines, since worries were escalating about job safety in the mines and the deteriorating working conditions there. The motion was rejected by deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party).

YavaI also complains about the lack of thorough inspections in mines. “We were informed about the inspectors’ visits two weeks prior to their arrival and made preparations accordingly, showing them certain sections.

Other sections inside the mines, which had terrible conditions, would never be shown to the inspectors, who would usually prefer the most tidy and comfortable routes and galleries with the guidance of mine managers,” he said.Endless warningsThe inspectors’ failure to take pains to uncover problems in the mines is particularly bad given the incessant warnings from different organizations and institutions.

For instance, back in 2010, the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects’ Chambers (TMMOB) issued a list of suggestions in an effort to prevent future coal mining accidents. The report paid especial attention to the Soma mines, calling for an immediate action.

Likewise, the Council of State’s 2012 report raised doubts about Soma Holding’s capacity to operate its mines and to fulfill the commitments of its production promises. The report suggested that Soma Holding be closely monitored.

The insufficient inspections of the mines in Turkey is reflected in the country’s place in the list of deadly work-related accidents prepared by the International Labour Organization (ILO). Turkey is the third worst performing country in terms of job accidents after India and Russia, according to the report.

Miners also claim that the gas entrapment in the Eynez mine was already known as it had been closed in the past for the same reason, before it was licensed to Soma Holding. They say a disaster was known to be imminent as warnings such as extreme heat in the galleries and hotter-than-normal coal ore had been noted for at least a couple of months prior to the tragedy, but that mine managers didn’t heed warnings.

“They would always send us back to work,” they say.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman

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