A cave-in at an illegal coal mine in Colombia killed another miner Thursday, marking the second mining death in the past two days, and officials now say 63 miners have been killed so far in 2011 despite an increase in government regulations and safety inspections.
Rescue workers digging into the underground mine near the village of Lenguazaque in central Colombia found the body of the unnamed miner at around 3 a.m. local time Thursday, said Edgar Morales, the head of rescue operations for the government’s mining oversight institute Ingeominas.
“This mine was more than just illegal, it was extremely rudimentary and didn’t meet any safety regulations,” Morales said in a telephone interview.
Less than 24 hours earlier, on Wednesday, rescue workers responding to a report of a cave-in at a coal mine located a short drive from the Lenguazaque mine discovered the body of another unnamed miner. Ingeominas said that miner died from lack of oxygen.
The government has been ramping up mine inspections in 2011 and has shut down scores of unlicensed mines after 26 coal miners were killed from methane explosions in two accidents over a one-week span in late January. The government acknowledged that prior to the January accidents it only had 16 inspectors to oversee several thousand mines the dot the Colombian countryside.
Despite hiring more inspectors and bulking up regulations, deadly accidents remain common. “The industry, the mining companies, are making few attempts at self-monitoring of safety conditions. The culture of safety simply doesn’t exist here in Colombia,” Morales said.
Morales acknowledged Ingeominas doesn’t send a press release each time there’s an accident in which a miner is killed. This has made it difficult for the public to keep reliable tabs on how many miners have been killed.
But he said internal reports indicate Thursday’s death in Lenguazaque brings to 63 the number of miners killed so far this year. He said this compared to 173 killed in all of 2010.
“We could say that for 2011 we’re on track to have fewer deaths than in 2010, but in reality even one death is too much for us,” Morales said.
Colombia is the world’s fifth-largest coal exporter and its production destined for abroad is controlled by foreign companies including Alabama-based Drummond Co., Glencore International AG, BHP Billiton Ltd. and Xstrata PLC, which operate in open-pit coal mines.
But most of the deadly mining accidents in Colombia occur in small, underground coal mines operated by individuals or small local companies that have few safety procedures in place. The output from most of these mines is destined for the domestic market. The government has said it would pressure local coal buyers to only purchase minerals from mines that have passed the government’s safety checks.