10/13/2010, 00.00
CHILE – CHINA
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Made-in-China lifting equipment rescue trapped Chilean miners

South American miners thank God and Chile for their rescue. The death toll in Chinese mines is among the highest in the world. Officially, only 2,900 miners die each year in coalmine accidents. Unofficially, the number of dead is closer to 20,000. Many accidents are covered up. Some 301,000 people die every year from lung disease like silicosis.

San José (AsiaNews/Agencies) – World media showed live pictures of the rescue operation that began bringing to the surface the 33 miners trapped in the San José mine in Copiapó for more than two months at a depth of 624 metres. The poignant images of the men coming out one at a time, waiting families hugging them, people praying in thanksgiving, have been splashed around the world, leaving no one indifferent to the compassion and joy of the day.

The first miner to reach the surface at midnight, local time, was Florencio Avalos. He was wearing special space-age gear with an oxygen mask, heartbeat and body temperature monitoring devices, and special spectacles to protect his eyes after months in the dark.

On reaching the surface rescued miners have knelt looking heavenward, thanked God, greeted everyone, shouted “Chile” Chile””, hugged their relatives, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera and the first lady as well as their fellow workers. Their next step is to pass a medical check-up before they whisked away for at least two days in hospital under observation.

Now rescue organisers expect the whole operation to last at least two days.

The lifting machine used in the rescue operation was made in China, Xinhua reported yesterday. Chinese media have had field day with the story, proud that a Chinese engineer is steering the equipment, but no one is asking questions about the situation in Chinese mines.

The reality is that China’s coalmines are regularly hit by incidents (explosions, cave-ins, flooding, etc.). Given the country’s voracious need for energy, government authorities have pushed for more output, and more profits, at the expense of safety.

A study by the CLSA, one of Asia’s main independent equity brokers, on average at least 2,900 miners die in Chinese coal mines a year, a ratio of one dead body per tonne of coal, officially that is. In reality, estimation put the actual death toll at around 20,000 miners a year; and the real number could be higher because mine owners and government officials tend to cover up mining accidents.

In addition to those who die on the job, many die from a number of lung diseases like silicosis (at least 301,000 according to Health Ministry figures).

Over the past three years, the government has adopted new safety regulations in mines but they are poorly enforced.

Corruption and collusion between local government officials and mine owners have prevented the closure of unsafe mines, favoured cover-ups and underestimated the number of dead.

The situation is such that Communist Party has banned its officials from investing in mining, another directive largely ignored.

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