HARBIN -- Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, abundant in coal resources, has closed 273 small coal mines last year and plans to close another 100 small ones this year, according to the provincial safety watchdog.
The province has seen increasing coal output in recent years, but the pits are also posing big threats to miners' safety, said an official with Heilongjiang Provincial Work Safety Bureau.
With the closure of more small and hazard-prone coal mines, the number of accidents and tolls also plunged.
A total of 170 people died in 110 coal mine accidents last year in Heilongjiang, compared to 278 deaths in 152 accidents in the previous year.
Early last year, the province launched a drive to close small coal mines or restrict them from expansion. The province also enforced supporting policies to subsidize those collieries that stopped coal production and started other businesses.
The number of small coal mines has reduced from more than 7,000in 1999 to the current 1,400 in the province, said the official.
Shanxi, China's largest coal producing province, closed 2,880 illegally-operated coal mines last year. The provincial government will also give an award up to 100,000 yuan (US$13,333) to those who tip off the authorities and make "outstanding contributions" to the crackdown.
China, the world's largest coal producer, had been striving to improve work safety in its accident-prone coal mines. But accidents were still frequent as enforcement was lax and mine owners pushed production beyond safety limits to earn higher profits.
In 2006, China produced 2.4 billion tons of coal. Accidents in small mines with an annual capacity below 300,000 tons each, however, claimed 3,431 lives.
According to an earlier report of the State Administration of Work Safety, China closed 10,412 coal mines in the last three years amid efforts to improve workplace safety and to check extravagant use of natural resources.