Rescue workers in South Africa say they have saved 11 miners trapped in an abandoned gold mineshaft east of Johannesburg and that there were no miners left underground.

Werner Vermaak, an emergency services spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that rescue operations had ceased on the site and the mine had been handed over to mine security.

The miners have been taken into police custody, accused of mining illegally.

Initial reports said that more than 200 miners were trapped further down a steep tunnel, but Vermaak said that he could not confirm it.

Some of those who came out were dehydrated but otherwise in good spirits, emergency responder Kobus Du Plooy told the Associated Press news agency.

The miners were trapped by fallen boulders below the surface at the old mine site in Benoni.

Shain Germaner, a journalist for the Star newspaper, told Al Jazeera that the men were believed to have been trapped since Saturday morning.

Heavy equipment had been brought in to try to remove the boulders obstructing the shaft, and a Reuters reporter saw ropes and a hoist being lowered into the shaft. There was a heavy police presence. 

 

A spokesman for The Gold One, which has prospecting rights to the area, said that the miners were trapped in the "New Kleinfontein 6" ventilation shaft, which had been closed off with concrete slabs.

"The illegal miners have dug a tunnel right next to it to access the shaft and it has collapsed behind them," he said, adding that heavy rain may have triggered the collapse. 

Illegal mining of abandoned shafts is common in South Africa, where informal miners excavate mineral ore to be sold to buyers, often living underground in dangerous and precarious conditions.

"It is definitely a common occurence in South Africa," Vermaak told Al Jazeera. "These mines have been closed down because they are too dangerous to mine."

At least 82 men - thought to have been illegal miners - died after an underground fire at a Harmony gold mine in South Africa in 2009.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies