Dozens of miners killed in fire inside Kazakhstan coal mine

Rescue operation under way to find missing miners in the wake of methane explosion at a mine owned by steel giant ArcelorMittal.

A view of the Kostyenko coal mine, in Karaganda, Kazakhstan (Stringer, AFP)
A view of the Kostenko coal mine, in Karaganda, Kazakhstan [Stringer, AFP]

At least 42 mine workers have been killed in a fire at a Kazakhstan coal mine on Saturday operated by ArcelorMittal Temirtau, according to the Ministry for Emergency Situations.

After what appeared to be a methane blast, 206 of the 252 people at the Kostenko mine had been evacuated, with 18 needing medical assistance, the company said in a statement on Saturday evening.

Search-and-rescue efforts continued for the remaining four miners through the next day, Kazakhstan’s Ministry for Emergency Situations posted on social media on Sunday morning.

“The search operation is hampered by the presence of destroyed mining equipment, as well as rubble in some places,” the ministry said in a statement.

Rescuers are searching for miners in two areas of the mine 4km (2.5 miles) apart, it said.

Relatives of miners working at to the Kostenko coal mine await news as a rescue operation continues following a mine fire on October 28, 2023 [Stringer/Reuters]
Relatives of miners working at the Kostenko coal mine await news as a rescue operation continues following a mine fire on October 28, 2023 [Stringer/Reuters]

This is the deadliest such incident in Kazakhstan’s post-Soviet history. The Kostenko coal mine, located in the city of Qaraghandy, is operated by ArcelorMittal Temirtau, the local unit of Luxembourg-based multinational ArcelorMittal, the world’s second-largest steel producer.

It operates eight coal mines across the Karaganda region and a further four iron ore mines in central and northern Kazakhstan, in Central Asia.

In a statement, ArcelorMittal Temirtau said that work had been halted at all of its coal mining sites in Kazakhstan and conveyed “pain” at the lives lost. The company said its efforts “are now aimed at ensuring that affected employees receive comprehensive care and rehabilitation, as well as close cooperation with government authorities”.

Rescue operation continues following a mine fire on October 28, 2023 at Kostenko coal mine in Kazakhstan [Stringer/Reuters]
Rescue operation continues following a mine fire on October 28, 2023 at the Kostenko coal mine in Kazakhstan [Stringer/Reuters]

Ending investment

Investigators are working to determine the causes of the incident and any safety violations at the coal mine.

The fire is the latest in a string of workplace deaths at sites operated by ArcelorMittal Temirtau.

In August, four miners were killed after a fire erupted at the same mine, while five people died following a methane leak at another site in November 2022.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Saturday that his government is ending its investment partnership with ArcelorMittal. He expressed condolences to the victims’ families and declared a national day of mourning on October 29.

The government said in a statement that it was finalising a deal to nationalise the company, which operates the country’s biggest steel mill. ArcelorMittal confirmed that in its own statement.

“ArcelorMittal can also confirm, as communicated earlier today by the government of Kazakhstan, that the two parties have been in discussions concerning the future of ArcelorMittal Temirtau and recently signed a preliminary agreement for a transaction that will transfer ownership to the Republic of Kazakhstan,” it said.

“ArcelorMittal is committed to completing this transaction as soon as possible in order to minimise disruption to the greatest extent possible.”

Last month First Deputy Prime Minister Roman Sklyar told reporters that Kazakhstan was in talks with potential investors who could take over the mill.

He said the cabinet was unhappy with ArcelorMittal’s failure to meet its investment obligations, upgrade equipment and ensure worker safety after a series of deadly accidents.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies