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Lack of inspections primary cause of Soma disaster [Cihan News Agency (Turkey)]
[May 15, 2014]

Lack of inspections primary cause of Soma disaster [Cihan News Agency (Turkey)]

(Cihan News Agency (Turkey) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- A mining accident that killed at least 283 miners in the town of Soma in Turkey's western Manisa province might have been averted if inspections had been regularly carried out at the mine, according to work-safety experts and mining engineers.

The tragedy is believed to have been caused by a power transformer exploding in the mine. However, the investigation has not yet been completed and experts are already contesting this account. Cemal Özbirsel, a mining expert, said: "I am one of the engineers who took part in the establishment of that mine. I don't agree with the claims that the accident was caused by a power-transformer explosion. Because power transformers have explosion- and pressure-resistant systems. My technical experience indicates that the fire was caused by coal catching fire inside the mine. The power transformers heated up because of the flames, which led to the explosion, which in turn put the oxygen vents out of order, leaving the workers inside without air.

"The only reason behind the disaster is a lack of inspections, because mining sites are the sort of facilities that demand continual inspection. After an explosion in 1992 in Kozlu in which 263 people died, the Work Safety Department was established within Turkish Coal Enterprises (TKI) and opened branches in provinces with coal mines. However, in 2006 the department was closed without explanation and was made a sub-department of TKI's Education Department," Özbirsel said.

Had the mining facilities obeyed the rules laid out in directives on mining, no accidents would have happened. "This facility extracted 10,000 tons of coal a day, and has about 5,000 workers. My colleagues have told me that the number of dead is more than 300. To avoid similar disasters in the future, work-safety measures should be tightened and all projects should be inspected more frequently. I also think the number of engineers employed at the mines is not adequate. A lack of qualified personnel also makes accident prevention difficult." Osman Sevaioglu, professor at the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Department of Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) and former member of the Energy Market Regulatory Agency (EPDK), said the failure to update the components of the power transformer caused the tragedy. He said tender specifications in privatizations of coal mines should make it mandatory to update equipment. "You should ask the company, why has it failed to improve the mine? The answer would be the costs are too high. That means there should be changes to the tender laws. Not the lowest bidder, but the lowest bidder that meets certain requirements should win the contract." He said he suspected that the fire in the mine was caused by an older type of power transformer. "The company in Soma made a statement that there was an oil-filled transformer inside the mine. Regarding the discussions on whether the fire was caused by the power unit, I can say that there could be two types of transformers there: oil-filled or dry-type transformers. I am a scientist. If there was an oil-filled transformer -- which is my understanding -- that means there is huge negligence here." He said many components -- including cables, transformers and isolators -- comprised the system and the state of each component should be examined. "If no changes were made in the mine, that means the TKI's poor structure is there as it was [when first installed]. The TKI uses oil-filled transformers." The mine is owned by Soma Kömür Isletmeleri A.S., a subsidiary of Soma Holding, the largest underground coal producer in Turkey.

--- Call from Amnesty In a statement on the disaster, Amnesty International called on the Turkish government to urgently investigate the accident and claims of dangerous labor practices in the mining industry to prevent further tragedies.

"This was a tragedy that should have been avoided. The long history of deaths in mines in Turkey raises chilling questions over workers' safety. The fact that the government rejected recent calls by parliamentarians to investigate serious work-related accidents is nothing short of shocking. They are playing with people's lives," said Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher at Amnesty International.

"Turkish authorities must launch an immediate investigation into the causes of the explosion. Remedies must be made available to the survivors and victims' relatives. Soma Holding must fully cooperate with the process and the results of the investigation must be made public," Gardner said. (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CIHAN (c) 2014 Cihan News Agency. All right reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (

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