Coal death toll climbs to 1,113 in Jan-Mar
Mine accidents in China killed a total of 1,113 people in the first three months of the year, up more than 20 per cent over the same period last year, according to the State Administration of Work Safety yesterday.
However, the number of accidents declined 7.4 per cent to 503 in the first three months.
At a press conference hosted by the Information Office of the State Council, Li ruled out the possibility of a coal shortage despite a recent campaign to crack down on illegal mines in a bid to improve China's safety record.
"The campaign to shut down coal pits which do not meet safety standards will affect the coal supply to some degree but will not cause a shortage," he said.
Li said his confidence was based on the fact that those operations being closed were of a small scale.
Facing a mounting coal death toll since the last quarter of 2004, the central government has stepped up efforts to close illegal mines operating without the correct licences.
Earlier reports said that in China's "coal province" of Shanxi, only about 700 mines of the total 4,000 were authorized to continue operations.
While dismissing concerns over China's coal supply, Li said: "The government's priority will be to guarantee the safety of workers" if increasing coal production and safety came into conflict.
Coal accounts for 67 per cent of China's energy consumption. The total output last year surpassed 1.9 billion tons, 57 per cent of which was produced by 778 State-owned key mines. The 1,200 medium-sized State-owned companies and 23,400 small, private operations supplied 15 per cent and 28 per cent of the total output respectively.
"So we should cut the number of small mines, especially those with poor safety records," said Li.
He said China's top leadership has placed great importance on work safety.
He said his administration, newly promoted to a ministry-level agency, has been cracking down on all kinds of illegal mining activities and making mines that fail to meet work safety standards come up to par.
His administration dispatched teams last month to inspect coal mines and shut down operations that failed safety inspections.
But despite their efforts, the coal mine death toll is still climbing.
"Since the fourth quarter of last year, several extremely serious accidents have occurred, arousing widespread public concern," Li said.
In February, an underground explosion in Fuxin of Northeast China's Liaoning Province killed 214 miners, and was the second deadliest mine accident since the founding of New China in 1949.
The bodies of several dozen miners remain underground after gas explosions ripped through Chenjiashan coal mine in Shaanxi Province last November.
Meanwhile, one miner was killed and 22 others were trapped in a coal mine gas outburst in Chongqing Municipality, Southwest China yesterday afternoon.
The accident occurred at about
2:00 pm at a coal mine of the Tianfu Mining Company in Hechuan in Chongqing Municipality. Rescue work is under way, Xinhua said.
(China Daily 04/06/2005 page2)