Colombia wants mine safety review after blast

An explosion at coal mine killed at least 21 workers in northern Colombia.

Last Updated: Jan 28, 2011, 08:46 AM IST

Bogota: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called for a mine safety review on Thursday after an explosion killed 21 miners at an underground coal pit in the northeast of the world`s No 5 coal exporter.

The blast on Wednesday was the latest in a series of mine accidents in South America, including a collapse in Chile last year that buried 33 workers until they were rescued to global jubilation after two months.

At Colombia`s La Preciosa mine in the Norte de Santander province, relief workers said they had recovered all 21 bodies from the scene of the accident.

"We`re going to review every way mines are controlled and how the regulations are used to avoid these accidents. That`s where there`s a need for much more effectiveness, I believe," Santos said from Switzerland, where he is attending the meeting of top executives in Davos.

"If there are effective and rigorous controls, these tragedies would not happen," he added in a transcript of a news conference published on the presidency`s website.

The mining regulator Ingeominas said on Wednesday the blast at La Preciosa mine had probably been caused by methane gas. It said there was an explosion at the same mine in 2007, which killed 32 people.

Colombia`s coal industry is dominated by major players with open-pit mining operation of thermal coal. But some smaller mines in the Andean nation are dug underground where methane gas buildups can cause accidents.

Last June, a blast killed 70 miners in Colombia, while in November, nine people died at two small coal mines in the central province of Cundinamarca.

Despite the recent run of accidents, conditions for workers in Latin America`s mines have improved radically in recent decades from the nightmarish conditions of past centuries after Spanish conquistadors began a hunt for gold.

The modern-day industry has helped fuel an economic boom in some nations, including Colombia, where mining is one of the main generators of foreign exchange.

Bureau Report