Eleventh miner dies following accidents at two Polish coal mines

The combined death toll from accidents at two coal mines in Silesia in southern Poland now stands at 11, with some miners still unaccounted for.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced this morning that two more miners had died following Saturday’s tremor at the Zofiówka mine, bringing the number of fatalities there to six. Last Wednesday and Thursday, methane explosions at the nearby Pniówek mine resulted in five deaths.

Both coal mines, separated by just 6 kilometres, belong to the majority-state-owned JSW group, which is the EU’s largest producer of high-quality hard coking coal and one of Poland’s biggest employers.

This has been a “dark week” for Polish mining, the Silesia region and Poland, Morawiecki said during a visit to the Central Mines Rescue Station. But he also noted that rescue missions are needed less frequently now than they were a decade or so ago.

“These events were especially tragic,” he said, quoted by Polsat News, thanking the miners for their “sacrifice and courage”, “always following their friends from the mining fraternity without hesitation to save lives”.

The tremor at Zofiówka, causing an outflow of methane, took place at 3:40 a.m. at 900 metres below the surface. Of the 52 workers in the vicinity at the time, 42 managed to escape. Rescue teams found four miners dead on Saturday evening.

This accident did not involve any explosions, unlike the events at Pniówek, where five deaths were caused by methane explosions on Wednesday. Further blasts the next day hospitalised 10 emergency workers – although their injuries were not life-threatening – causing the rescue operation to be suspended.

Morawiecki assured that checks will be carried out immediately to confirm whether the accidents were “a very unfortunate coincidence” or the result of any negligence. If the latter is the case, “then it will be necessary to take appropriate action”

The spokesperson for the Gliwice public prosecutor’s office, Joanna Smorczewska, said today that legal proceedings had been initiated regarding “bringing about an event endangering the life and health of many people…by allowing mining works in an area at risk of a methane tremor and outflow”, reports Interia.

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Morawiecki also offered his condolences to the families of the miners killed in the accidents, and pledged that the state would support them.

“Of course, this will not bring anyone back to life,” he said. “But I want to assure them that the state will not leave anybody alone – the children, families, wives, and loved ones of the miners who died at Zofiówka and Pniówek will receive the care of the Polish state.”

Poland currently produces an estimated 90% of the EU’s hard coal. Around 70% of its domestic energy production comes from coal, by far the higher figure in the EU. However, in recent years the country has come under increasing political and economic pressure to wean itself off coal and meeting the EU’s climate targets.

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Main image credit: Flickr/KPRM (under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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