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Safety watchdog warns of more accidents in coalmines
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China's State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) has warned of a possible rise in the number of colliery accidents as coal production accelerates to meet winter demand.

In its latest circular to its local branches, the administration identified the fourth quarter as "the peak season for coal production" and "very susceptible to accidents".

Six colliery accidents have left 41 people dead or missing during the week ending on Oct. 28, said the circular.

In an explosion in a colliery of southwestern China's Chongqing Municipality on Oct. 25, at least 10 miners were killed. Early on Sunday, another 10 miners were trapped underground by flood at Lingxian Coal Mine in east China's Jiangxi Province, with only one rescued so far.

The administration urged the branches to take effective measures to secure "permanent improvements" in mine safety.

It ordered the closure of collieries that failed to meet safety requirements for thorough and comprehensive overhauls, with compulsory and strict inspections before production is resumed.

It urged local branches to accelerate the closure of small mines which have accounted for two thirds of the deaths in coal mine accidents and claimed 3,431 lives last year alone.

"Malpractice and illegal behavior must be stopped. All accidents must be handled immediately and strictly in line with laws," said the circular.

Song Hansong, deputy director of the malfeasance and infringement department of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, said the corruption, abuse of authority, and dereliction of duty by some government officials at grass-root levels accounted for many of the illegal mines.

More than 88 percent of malfeasance cases concerning severe or extremely severe production accidents placed on file for investigation and prosecution in the first eight months involved officials of law enforcement and supervision departments at grass-root levels, Song said.

The government has closed more than 9,000 small mines with a maximum annual capacity of 300,000 tons over the last two years and will shut another 1,000 by the end of this year.

But the battle to rectify coal production and to meet its rapidly surging coal demand will continue to be arduous for the world's largest coal producer and consumer.

The rate of fatalities per million tons of coal mined in 2005 in China was 70 times higher than the United States and seven times higher than in Russia and India.

About 9 billion yuan (1.18 billion U.S. dollars) has been poured into the mining industry to improve safety, including updating technologies to better control methane gas, which has triggered most deadly explosions in small mines.

In another statement released on Thursday, the SAWS said it was soliciting public submissions on a draft plan concerning 604 standards for production safety from 2007 to 2010, targeting 10 sectors, including collieries, non-coal mines, dangerous chemicals, fireworks, general production, and machinery.

The SAWS has required local branches to "identify loopholes in production safety supervision and prevent severe accidents".

The building heating season for northern China starts on Nov. 15 and normally lasts four months. With the arrival of coal consumption peak, domestic prices for steam coal have risen on expanded turnover in October.

Statistics from the Ministry of Commerce show steam coal from China's major coal production base, Shanxi, sold at 295 yuan per ton (US$39) last month, a rise of 15 yuan or two dollars from September.

Spurred by the rising crude oil prices and the growing domestic coal demand, the Ministry of Commerce has projected slight hikes in local coal prices, which may prompt collieries to step up production.

(Xinhua News Agency November 1, 2007)

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