A coal mine fire at the Kostenko mine has led to loss of 42 lives, with four more miners still missing. The incident occurred on October 28, 2023, and it is the latest in a series of workplace disasters at sites operated by ArcelorMittal Temirtau, the local subsidiary of Luxembourg-based steel giant ArcelorMittal, which manages some of Kazakhstan’s largest steel plants and various coal and ore mines.
The coal mine fire at the Kostenko mine in the Karaganda region is a reminder of the dangers that miners face daily.
The fire was believed to have been caused by a blast of methane gas, a hazard in underground mining operations.
What makes this incident particularly devastating is that 252 people were working in the mine when the fire broke out.
The aftermath of the incident was marked by efforts to evacuate the miners and rescue those trapped underground.
However, the situation was complicated by the presence of destroyed mining equipment and rubble in some areas, hampering the rescue operations. This is the most recent in a string of fatal accidents at ArcelorMittal-operated sites.
In August, another fire claimed the lives of four miners at the same mine, while a methane leak in November 2022 led to the death of five people at a different site.
The repeated occurrence of such disasters has raised questions about the safety standards and practices at these facilities.
The government announced the nationalization of ArcelorMittal Temirtau, the local unit responsible for the management of these facilities.
Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov revealed that the government had reached an agreement with the company’s shareholders and was in the process of formalizing the nationalization. The decision to nationalize comes after months of speculation about the company’s future.
In September, Kazakhstan’s first deputy prime minister, Roman Sklyar, had hinted at the government’s dissatisfaction with ArcelorMittal’s failure to meet investment obligations and repeated violations of worker safety standards.
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared Sunday a national day of mourning, underscoring the gravity of the situation and the collective grief felt by the nation.
The country’s prosecutor-general’s office also initiated an investigation into safety violations at the coal mine, signaling a commitment to uncover the truth and ensure accountability.
ArcelorMittal Temirtau, the local subsidiary of the global steel giant, issued a statement expressing its sorrow at the loss of lives.
The company’s efforts are now focused on providing care and rehabilitation for affected employees, in addition to closely cooperating with government authorities. The company has halted work at all of its coal mining sites in Kazakhstan as an response to the incident.
ArcelorMittal further pledged to cooperate with authorities and committed to compensation for the victims and their families.
Moreover, the company acknowledged the ongoing nationalization process and expressed its commitment to finalizing the transaction as soon as possible.
People like Daniar Mustafin, a 42-year-old salesman, are advocating for full nationalization without material compensation for the current owners.
The sentiment is that the company should be held responsible for its failures in ensuring the safety of its workers.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s order to halt cooperation with ArcelorMittal underscores the gravity of the situation.
He described ArcelorMittal Temirtau as “the worst enterprise in Kazakhstan’s history in terms of cooperation with the government.”
The previous deadliest mine accident in post-Soviet Kazakhstan occurred in 2006 when 41 miners lost their lives at another ArcelorMittal site. This was followed by another incident just two months later that claimed the lives of five miners.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, approximately 200 miners have died in Kazakhstan, with the majority of these fatalities occurring at ArcelorMittal-operated sites.
These statistics reveal a disturbing trend that demands urgent attention and action to protect the lives of those who work in the country’s mining industry.
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