China conducts nationwide inspections amid second mine disaster in space of a week

Rescuers conduct rescue works at the site of a collapsed coal mine in Alxa League, Inner Mongolia  (EPA)
Rescuers conduct rescue works at the site of a collapsed coal mine in Alxa League, Inner Mongolia (EPA)

At least five people were killed after a roof of a mine collapsed in southwestern China on Sunday, just days after a coal mine caved in and led to a continuing nationwide safety check.

Twenty-five miners were working underground in a mine in the Sichuan province when a part of the roof collapsed on them. Five were killed and three were injured, while the others escaped, according to China’s department of emergency management.

Authorities said it was not a coal mine, without providing further details.

Rescue efforts meanwhile continued at another open-pit coal mine in the northern part of the country, where over 40 people are still trapped under debris.

At least six people died from the incident last week in the Xinjing Coal Mining-operated site at Alxa League in the Inner Mongolia region.

Hundreds of fire rescue personnel, fire engines and heavy machinery have been pressed into action to continue the search for the trapped miners even as the hope of them being alive fades.

The cause for the collapse of the mine wall six days ago is under investigation and an unknown number of people have been detained.

President Xi Jinping has called for an “all-out” rescue operation, while local authorities have ordered inspections and safety improvements at other mines in the Inner Mongolia region, which is home to coal mines and other rare earth materials.

The Chinese ministry of emergency management has dispatched 20 teams across the country to conduct inspections to prevent further accidents.

“It is necessary to strictly control the safety of mines, immediately carry out special rectification of major safety hazards in mines, and deal with major risks and hidden dangers,” the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Officials have been tasked with cracking down on poor management practices and illegal mining.

China, the world’s biggest coal producer, also relies heavily on coal as its major source of energy, but the mines are among the world’s deadliest due to the lack of safety measures despite government orders.

Past inspections have disrupted operations and affected supply as the new round of checks come at a time when Beijing’s economy has started its recovery journey post Covid restriction.

According to the National Mine Safety Administration (NMSA), the number of accidents at coal mines nearly doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year, as the death toll rose to a six-year high of 245.

China increased its coal output last year by nine per cent to a record 4.5 billion tonnes, with Beijing urging miners to boost production following a nationwide shortage.

The Asian giant suffered a wave of blackouts in September 2021 because of coal supply shortages, that resulted in cutting off thousands of homes and factories.

About 168 accidents of varying degrees of severity took place in coal mines in 2022, a drastic uptick from 91 the year before, according to NMSA data.

“They ignored safety requirements and rushed to meet the production targets... and even violated operations regulations to run over their designed capacity,” the regulator said.

China approved the upgradation of power capacities across 82 plants in 2022, taking the total increase in capacity to 106 gigawatts or the equivalent of two large coal plants each week, according to a report by the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

The amount of capacity permitted more than quadrupled from 23 gigawatts in 2021, the report found.