All coal mines in the southern city of Leiyang have suspended production after 13 miners were trapped in a flooded mine shaft at the Yuanjiangshan Coal Mine on 29 November.
It was the second coal mine accident within the city limits in the last 40 days. On 23 October, two miners died and another was injured in a mine shaft transportation accident at the Sijiachong Coal Mine.
The alarm was raised at the Yuanjiangshan Coal Mine around midday on 29 November, and 11 rescue teams comprising more than 860 people were quickly dispatched to the scene. Rescue efforts were hampered, however, by the complicated geological conditions underground, which delayed the installation of pumping equipment.
Water levels began to fall on Tuesday, but as of this morning, rescuers still were no closer to the trapped miners.
An investigation into the accident is already underway, and local authorities are reportedly inspecting all of the city’s 221 mines in an attempt to “rectify hidden dangers.” Chinese media also reported that the owner of the Yuanjiangshan mine and several others had been detained by the authorities.
The coal mining industry was historically a major part of the Leiyang local economy and was a major source of revenue for the municipal government, but the industry has been in decline for much of the last decade.
In fact, the fees paid to the municipal government by the coal mining industry fell by about one billion yuan over the five years from 2012 to 2017. The drop in revenue was so severe that in May 2018 the municipal government was unable to pay its civil servants’ salaries.
The demand for coal has picked up in the last two years, and in September this year, Leiyang approved a new coal mine expansion project with an annual capacity of 150,000 tons.
However, the expansion of coal production, or reopening of closed mines, has been a significant factor in several mine accidents in China in the past, and it is possible that more accidents will occur as mine operators seek to cash in on rising demand.