Turkish firm, government deny negligence in mine

MURDER::Miners said they were not alerted about high levels of methane gas, inspectors never went below 100m and owners were tipped off before inspections

AP, SAVASTEPE, Turkey

Sun, May 18, 2014 - Page 6

Government and company officials denied on Friday that negligence caused Turkey’s mining disaster, as a survivor said safety inspectors never visited the lower reaches of the mine.

Anger continues in the western town of Soma. On Friday, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters.

In Istanbul, police forcefully broke up a crowd of about 150 people who lit candles and lined up mining helmets on the ground.

Turkish Minister of Energy Taner Yildiz said at least 298 people died. Another two or three people are believed to be missing, while 485 miners escaped or were rescued.

Protesting workers have described the disaster as murder, because of what they call flawed safety conditions.

Erdal Bicak, 24, said he was making his way to the surface when mine managers ordered him back down because of a problem.

“The company is guilty,” Bicak said, adding that managers had machines that measure methane gas levels. “The new gas levels had gotten too high and they didn’t tell us in time.”

“There’s no negligence with respect to this incident... [the mine] was inspected vigorously 11 times since 2009... Let’s learn from this pain and rectify our mistakes... this is not the time to look for a scapegoat,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Huseyin Celik said.

However, Bicak said the last inspection at the Soma mine was six months before the disaster. He said the inspectors only visit the top 100m of the mine and the managers knew that. The managers would clean up the top part of the mine and the inspectors never saw what was below, he said.

Soma resident Ibrahim Ali Hasdan said he was astonished by claims there was no negligence.

“This statement hurts people’s hearts... Even a young child wouldn’t be convinced by this statement,” he said.

Soma opposition lawmaker Ozgur Ozel says there is a mine accident every three or four months in the region and 11 workers have died in the past three years.

Mine inspections do take place, but the owners are tipped off up to a week before, Ozel said.

“The main suspicion about it is that there is a relationship between the government and those running this mine and the mine was not being properly supervised,” Ozel told reporters in an interview on Friday.

The disaster could hurt Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political ambitions. He has made no secret of his desire to run for president in the country’s August election after serving as prime minister for the past 11 years.

Celik said thick smoke from the underground fire killed miners who had no gas masks.

Bicak said he ended up in an area about 1km underground with 150 people when he heard an explosion.

He said they were given old oxygen masks.

Bicak eventually made it out of the mine with a friend.

He said that he lost many friends in the accident and that out of the group of 150 in the area, only 15 made it out alive.

Bicak recounted his story while in a town square with other miners who were holding candles in Savastepe, about 30km from Soma.

The tragedy spelled the end of his mining career, he said.