Karaganda, 30 October, 2023 (GNP): Kazakhstan observed a day of national mourning as the nation grapples with a devastating tragedy. A massive blaze at the Kostenko coal mine in the Karaganda region, operated by ArcelorMittal, claimed the lives of 45 miners. This heart-wrenching incident marks the deadliest accident in the post-Soviet history of Kazakhstan.
The catastrophe occurred on Saturday, leaving the entire nation in mourning. Tragically, the search continues for four miners, with rescuers acknowledging the slim chances of finding them alive due to challenging conditions caused by a lack of ventilation and the intensity of the explosion.
This incident surpasses the 2006 accident at another ArcelorMittal site, which claimed the lives of 41 miners. It also follows closely on the heels of a mining incident just two months ago that resulted in the loss of five lives.
Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, after visiting the mine site and consoling the victims’ families, expressed his strong disapproval of ArcelorMittal’s safety record. He described the company as “the worst enterprise in Kazakhstan’s history in terms of cooperation with the government.”
In response to the tragic event, President Tokayev has ordered the termination of cooperation with ArcelorMittal, resulting in the nationalization of the company’s local affiliate.
The Kazakh government and ArcelorMittal have announced a preliminary agreement to “transfer ownership of the (local) firm in favor of the Republic of Kazakhstan.” Both parties are committed to finalizing this transaction promptly.
Flags flew at half-mast across Kazakhstan as a symbol of national mourning. The mine fire left 252 people trapped underground, further underscoring the urgency of improving safety standards in the mining industry.
The tragic incident has ignited a wave of anger and disbelief, with many people applauding the government’s move towards nationalization in light of ArcelorMittal’s safety track record. Former miners like Sergei Glazkov have hailed their comrades as heroes, recognizing the immense risks miners face daily.
Local politicians and the public are demanding that ArcelorMittal be held accountable for safety lapses, and they call for tighter government control in order to protect the welfare of miners.
ArcelorMittal, led by Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal, operates around 15 factories and mines in Kazakhstan, with the initial promise of economic revival after the fall of communism. However, the inadequate investment and safety standards have faced persistent criticism from the authorities and labor unions.