Monday, February 17, 2014

Illegal Miners Rescued & Arrested

More than 20 illegal mine workers emerged from an abandoned mine by Monday afternoon but scores remained underground after a rescue operation stalled.
About 200 illegal miners are believed to be in the abandoned mine, many of them apparently fearing arrest if they come out. The situation has created a tense standoff between the miners below ground and the emergency workers and police trying to rescue them.

Emergency rescue service company ER24 said Sunday that police discovered the men stuck underground in an old ventilation tunnel after the police heard shouts during a patrol of the mine site, located east of Johannesburg near the area of Benoni. The emergency rescuers were able to open a hole to free 11 men on Sunday and another 13 on Monday, using large equipment to move boulders blocking a route underground.

Rescue workers said they were unwilling to go underground themselves because of questions about the stability of the shaft and the risk that miners might try to take them hostage.  Police arrested the men who did come out for illegal mining

The abandoned ventilation shaft is owned by Gold One International Ltd.  The company has the right to prospect for gold in the area, but had sealed off the ventilation shaft with a cement slab. Gold One said illegal miners dug a hole around the cement slab, which had collapsed behind them.

South Africa, once the world's largest gold producer, has shut many old mines around Johannesburg. Illegal mining has increased at abandoned gold mines near Johannesburg, the Department of Mineral Resources said in September. In 2010, South Africa's minister of mineral resources, Susan Shabangu, estimated the country loses around 5.6 billion rand ($516 million) a year due to illegal mining and she has launched a committee to look into how to reduce the activity.  (WSJ, 2/17/2014)

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