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regular-article-logo Thursday, 22 February 2024

Kazakhstan: At least 32 people dead, several missing in coal mine fire

Over 30 people were killed in a blaze caused by a methane gas leak at a mine operated by the local unit of ArcelorMittal. A string of workplace incidents has prompted the government to try to renationalize the firm

Deutsche Welle Published 29.10.23, 09:53 AM
Several miners were still reported missing hours after the blaze took hold

Several miners were still reported missing hours after the blaze took hold Deutsche Welle

At least 32 people have died and several are missing after a mine fire in Kazakhstan belonging to the world's largest steelmaker, ArcelorMittal, the Ministry for Emergency Situations said on October 27.

"At the Kostyenko mine as of 4 p.m. (1000 GMT) the bodies of 32 people have been found," the ministry said in a statement. "The search for 14 miners is continuing."

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Operator ArcelorMittal Temirtau, the local unit of the Luxembourg-based steelmaker, said some 252 people had been working at the Kostyenko coal mine at the time of the blaze.

The fire is believed to have been caused by a pocket of methane gas, the company said.

In the statement, the company conveyed "pain" at the lives lost and said their efforts "are now aimed at ensuring that affected employees receive comprehensive care and rehabilitation, as well as close cooperation with government authorities."

Steelmaker has a dozen mines in Kazakhstan

ArcelorMittal Temirtau operates eight coal mines across the Karaganda region and a further four iron ore mines in central and northern Kazakhstan.

The fire is the latest in a string of workplace deaths at sites operated by the firm in Kazakhstan. The company has been regularly accused of failing to respect safety and environmental regulations.

In August, four miners were killed after a fire erupted at the same mine, while five people died following a methane leak at another site in November 2022.

The blaze of October 27 was Kazakhstan's worst mining accident since 2006 when 41 miners died at an ArcelorMittal site.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has ordered his government to stop investment cooperation with ArcelorMittal

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has ordered his government to stop investment cooperation with ArcelorMittal Deutsche Welle

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said Saturday his country is stopping "investment cooperation" with ArcelorMittal Temirtau.

President: ArcelorMittal the 'worst in our history'

"This company has turned out to be the worst in our history from the point of view of cooperation with the government," Tokayev was cited by AFP news agency as saying as he met with relatives of the victims.

He gave his condolences to the victims' families and declared a national day of mourning on October 29.

The government also confirmed they were working to finalize a deal to nationalize the company, which operates the country's biggest steel mill.

"At the moment, work is ongoing on returning the company to the Republic of Kazakhstan," the government said on Telegram, adding that it was not considering handing the firm to "other foreign investors."

In September, First Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar told reporters that the cabinet was unhappy with ArcelorMittal's failure to meet its investment obligations, upgrade equipment and ensure worker safety after a series of deadly accidents.

Safety violations to be probed

The office of Kazakhstan's Prosecutor General has also announced an investigation into potential safety violations at the mine.

Kazakhstan is a vast, resource-rich country, formerly part of the Soviet Union. The extraction of iron and coal as well as oil, gas and uranium have made its economy the largest in Central Asia.

Accidents are common, however, because of aging infrastructure and equipment and lax safety standards.

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