Putin Pardons Imprisoned Director of Russian Mine Where 110 Were Killed In 2007 Mine Disaster
President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to pardon the former director of the Ulyanovskaya coal mine, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 2015 by the Novokuznetsk District Court for violating security rules in explosive areas. Several others were also sentenced to terms of imprisonment following the 2007 incident, the worst mining disaster in Russia for at least 50 years.
According to Pravda, Putin’s pardon on the official legal website reads: “Guided by principles of humanity, I herewith pardon Andrei Ivanovich Funk, … having released him from the need to further serve his sentence of imprisonment.”
Among those killed were 20 top mine officials, including the chief engineer, who had been inside checking a British-made hazard monitoring system. British citizen Ian Robertson was also killed in the blast, along with his interpreter. Robertson worked for the British-German mining consultancy group IMC, and was there performing a coal reserves audit. There were around 200 miners and other personnel in the mine at the time.
In its investigation, the federal Russian industrial safety agency Rostekhnadzor said that there were no gas monitors in the 270 metre deep pocket where the methane gas accumulated, and the large number of people in a restricted space could have accounted for the high fatality count.
The Ulyanovskaya investigation found that safety equipment had been tampered with deliberately to decrease the readings of methane levels in the mine. According to Kemerovo Oblast governor Aman Tuleyev, this was done “consciously in order to increase coal production”.
Five mine inspectors were subsequently dismissed for allowing the mine operator to “breach safety rules in order to make a profit.” The explosion was said to have been caused by sparks from an exposed cable igniting methane gas, which then ignited coal dust.
The Ulyanovskaya mine is located in the Kuznetsk basin in southern Siberia, which contains some of the world’s richest coal reserves. The heart of the area is called the Kuzbass, where many of the population work as miners or in mining-related industries.
The mine was relatively modern at the time, having only been opened in 2002, and is owned and operated by Yuzhkuzbassugol, Russia’s largest underground coal mining firm. Yuzhkuzbassugol is an affiliate of the Russian coal and steel company Evraz Group SA.
Since the Ulyanovskaya tragedy, other major mining disasters have included the Raspadskaya mine explosion where 91 were killed in May 2010 and the Vorkuta incident in February 2016 where 36 died in a methane blast.