Xinjiang mine had numerous safety violations before flood trapping 21 workers

A total of 21 workers remain trapped underground five days after a sudden flood inundated a coal mine in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

A total of 21 workers remain trapped underground five days after a sudden flood inundated a coal mine in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. 

The flooding at the Fengyuan Coal Mine in Hutubi county occurred on the evening of 10 April, when 29 people were underground working on a technical upgrade project. Eight workers managed to escape that day, but the remaining 21 have been trapped with no power supply or means of communication.

State media reported that 12 workers have been located on an operating platform about 1,200 metres from the shaft entrance. Eight other workers are on a second operating platform, while one is in an escape tunnel. Although the locations have been confirmed, the complex underground terrain has made rescue work difficult.

A high-profile rescue operation involving the Xinjiang People’s Armed Police, among other groups, has been further hampered by the remote location and high elevation that make it difficult to pump water out. 

The Fengyuan Coal Mine was established in 2002 and was initially granted an annual production capacity of 90,000 tons. This was provisionally increased to 600,000 tons in 2015. However, state media reported soon after the accident that the Fengyaun mine had been repeatedly fined for illegal production and violation of safety regulations.

The mine was sanctioned twice in 2018 for failing to provide proper training to staff and failing to correctly calibrate its carbon monoxide sensors. Crucially, the mine also violated water flow control regulations, an offence which led to a fine of 105,000 yuan.

As CLB has reported on numerous occasions, it is very common for mining and other high risk enterprises to be fined for violations of safety regulations but then simply pay the fine and carry on as before until the inevitable tragedy results.

Prior to the deaths of 23 workers at the Diaoshuidong Coal Mine in Chongqing in December 2020, for example, the local government had imposed numerous penalties on the mine for safety violations including a 18,000 yuan fine the previous year for violating coal mine face operation regulations.

So far this year, China Labour Bulletin’s Work Accident Map has recorded 22 mining accidents with 40 fatalities. According to official government statistics, there were 122 accidents and 225 deaths in the coal mining industry last year, a decline of 28.2 percent and 28.8 percent, respectively, compared to 2019.