Official documents reveal confusion over Soma death toll

Official documents reveal confusion over Soma death toll

Rescuers carry a miner to an ambulance on May 14 after he sustained injuries during the mine disaster in the Soma district of Manisa province. (Photo: Reuters)

May 23, 2014, Friday/ 17:44:35/ YAKUP ÇETİN / ISTANBUL
Official documents from the Akhisar Public Prosecutor's Office, which has been carrying out an investigation into a disastrous mine accident in Soma, a town in western Manisa province, have revealed discrepancies over the death toll in the accident.

According to an official report that was prepared by the prosecutor's office shortly after the accident and leaked to the media on Friday, the number of those killed in the incident was 307.

State officials have said 301 miners were killed in the Soma mine tragedy. A fire in the mine on May 13 rapidly depleted the oxygen in the mine shafts, causing the deaths of the miners due to carbon monoxide poisoning. The cause of the fire is not yet clear.

A preliminary report prepared by a group of experts and two prosecutors involved in the investigation that was also shared with the media on Friday initially stated that 307 people were killed in the disaster. According to the experts' report, as of May 16, 307 miners died in the tragedy. The report did not elaborate on the number of deaths as of any other date.

Energy and Natural Resources Minister Taner Yıldız spoke to reporters about the experts' report and said he thinks the experts cited the number of victims of the mine tragedy as 307 "by mistake." He also called on everyone who claims that the Soma mine tragedy killed more than 301 workers, including the experts behind the report, to prove their assertions.

The Akhisar Public Prosecutor's Office issued a statement later on Friday saying the report indicated that the number of the victims was 307 as the result of an error.

The experts' preliminary report also states that the level of carbon monoxide was many times higher than the limit when the accident occurred and that the Turkish state, which owns the mining field, bears responsibility in the accident. According to the experts, before the accident, the level of carbon monoxide inside the mine was many times higher than the maximum limit of 500 ppm. The experts also said the mine's operator, operations manager, chief engineer responsible for work safety and shift supervisors also bear responsibility in the accident.

Eight people have been arrested in the investigation into the mining accident, including Can Gürkan, the CEO of Soma Coal Enterprises Inc., and General Manager Ramazan Doğru. The other arrestees include the company's operations manager, Akın Çelik, mining engineers Yalçın Erdoğan and Ertan Ersoy, shift supervisors Yasin Kurnaz and Hilmi Kazık and technician Mehmet Ali Günay Çelik. A prosecutor sought an arrest warrant for the mine's owner, Alp Gürkan, but the request was rejected by the court.

The report also noted that mine managers who are believed to have some responsibility in the disaster have been detained and some have already been sent to jail pending trial.

The report was prepared after two prosecutors and a group of experts traveled to the mine for a series of post-accident inspections. The group first examined a power distribution unit which was pointed to as the cause of the blaze in the mine shortly after the accident. Based on their investigation, the group reported that the fire did not originate in the power distribution unit. There was no explosive or inflammable oil or gas in the power distribution unit, according to the report.

The report said the presence of a high level of carbon monoxide inside the mine suggests that coal had begun to burn on its own before the catastrophic accident on May 13. There were 19 carbon monoxide sensors in the mine and one carbon dioxide sensor, 19 coal gas sensors and nine oxygen sensors. The sensors, according to the report, had detected high levels of carbon dioxide and low levels of oxygen on many occasions before the accident.

The report further stated that the coal mine had been temporarily closed due to a high level of carbon monoxide on Feb. 24 and reopened after the gas was evacuated.

On Friday, Manisa Bar Association Chairman Zeynel Balkız had a meeting with the prosecutors involved in the investigation of the Soma mine disaster and asked the prosecutors to detain and question the mine's owner, Gürkan, as part of the investigation.

Balkız, speaking to the press after the meeting, said the prosecutors told him that another group of experts will inspect the mine in the days to come. “The prosecutors said the investigation will be expanded based on the findings of this new group. We want the investigation to be expanded. The mine's owner, Gürkan, should be included in the investigation. We believe that Gürkan, who appeared in front of the media in an effort to prove his company's innocence in the mine disaster, must also be interrogated as part of the ongoing investigation,” the bar association head noted.
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