On 13 May 2014, an explosion occurred at a mine in Soma, Turkey, which caused a mine fire for two days. Rescue operations ended after four days, and the official death toll stands at 301. However, some miners dispute this official figure, claiming that “more than 18 bodies still trapped in the mine.”
Mine accidents are rife in Turkey. In 2010, Turkey ranked third in mining accidents, just behind Russia and India. And while China tops the chart with miners fatalities, with an average of 2,500 deaths per year, Turkey has a higher ratio than China in the number of deaths per 1 million tons of coal extracted.
Coincidentally, this accident comes after the Turkish parliament rejected a demand for a parliamentary investigation regarding the safety in Soma mines, on 29 April 2014.
Poor safety conditions are chronique in Turkish mines, and still Turkey didn’t sign on to international conventions outlining mine safety. Ironically, the next day after Soma’s disaster, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, cited 19th-century Britain to show that mine accidents are “usual things.” This erroneous comparison goes hand in hand with photos, taken in the same day, of one of Erdoğan’s aide in a smart suite kicking a protester held by security force, during the PM visit to Soma.
Normalising and downplaying the dangers in Turkish coal mines seems to be the norm in most of Turkish institutions. For example, mining fatality figures published by the state-owned Turkish Coal Corporation (TTK) are deceiving and far lower than reality. For instance, TTK’s mining death toll for 2010 is 5, while in the same year an accident at a mine operated by the same TTK resulted in 30 deaths.
The Soma mine was privatised in 2005. The owner of the mine, Ali Gürkan, stated in an interview in 2012, that his company managed to drop the cost of coal from US$130 per ton, to $24. This cost reduction was achieved through measures such as locally manufacturing the electric transformers, but mainly by “hiring subcontractors for hard work with lower salaries than workers organized by the trade union.” In fact, mines in Turkey hire thousands of either migrant workers, or local unqualified workers, and pay them low wages, without providing them with any social security benefits or coverage.
(09:23 CEST, 19 May 2014) Text and infographic updated to show the final death toll. In the infographic, the figure 298 next to Soma accident was replaced with 301. In the text, the first paragraph was also amended, the original text reads: “Rescue operations are still under way, and as of 09:55 EET, 17 May 2014, the death toll stands at 299 miners, with about 14 other miners still reported missing.”
* * *
Follow me on Twitter: @hisham_ashkar.
Like on/off … but mostly off page on Facebook.