Testimony from company officials exposes negligence towards scandal in the Ermenek mine, Karaman province, where a water pipe explosion caused a collapse killing 18 miners in October 2014. Rescue teams had to work for 38 days to recover the bodies.
Monday saw the first day of the trial in Ermenek of 16 defendants in connection with the disaster — including mining company owner Saffet Uyar, mining permit holder Abdullah Özbey and engineering supervisor Ali Kurt. Notably some of the suspects are charged with criminal neglect, and could face up to 25 years in prison. Mining engineer supervisor Kurt also appeared before the court on charges of ‘forging private documents’, as did mine worker Naci Özsoy.
In Ermenek, central Turkey, a bailiff struggled to maintain order as families of the 18 miners killed in the collapse back in October attempted to attack the mine company officials who were on trial. Additional security forces had to be brought in.
The relatives of the miners shouted out, “You traded the lives of our children for a sack of coal” and “May you burn as well” when the three main suspects were brought into court.
The indictment on the case underlined that the mining officials failed to take measures even though portions of the coal were sliding, and that they had no alarm system in place when the explosion happened.
More scandalous was engineer Özsoy’s testimony to questions over why the problem of leaking water was not handled properly. “I saw water leaking in drops from different parts of the mine. I tasted the water, it was natural and did not smell, therefore I concluded that nothing was wrong.”
An outraged relative of one of the victims yelled out “How stupid! To try to conduct analysis of water by tasting it.”
“The flooding issues of the mine were kept off the books of the company since the 2010,” stated attorney Gülşen Uzuner, adding that all high level officials of the company were well aware of the situation, including the owner. Uzuner also underlined that the mine owners frequently tried to hide the conditions of the mine from the inspectors.
Findings indicate that the company was inspected four times in the past two years. The latest inspection report, in June 2014, underlined 8 items which still needed to be tackled by the mine operator.
These include: the emergency aid room lacked an updated list of safety measures; a buffer needed to be constructed as a precaution against explosions from spreading; and no evacuation exercise had been conducted in case of emergency; no records of health inspections among others.
Soma mine trial adjourned again
The families of the 301 miners that were killed in the explosion in the Soma town of Manisa province in May 2014, in one of the deadliest mining incidents in Turkish history, were once again left outraged after the court in Akshisar district of Manisa was adjourned after only an hour on Monday morning.
The Akhisar Criminal Court cited the fact that numerous suspects with conflicted interests were being represented by the same lawyer. The ruling comes two days after the public prosecutor of the case was replaced. Previously the court had been adjourned in mid-April. The next hearing will be held on June 16.
A family member of one of the victims lashed out at the repeated delays in the legal proceedings, stating “We traveled 100 kilometers, and are now being told to wait. Shame on them.”
The explosion of the Soma mine in Turkey’s western province of Manisa on May 13, 2014 caused a fire about 2,000 meters from the entrance. The fire in turn caused the mine to fill with toxic gas, ultimately resulting in the deaths of 301 miners and spurring national debate over workplace safety, labor standards and the quality of state inspections.