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China safety agency says 'illegal' output led to fatalities at state coal mine

10 workers killed last week in tunnel collapse
By Meng Meng
Rescuers carry materials and walk to a cave at the site of a coal mine explosion in Chongqing, China, Nov. 1, 2016. REUTERS/Zhou Shijie

(Reuters) — China's State Administration of Work Safety said on Tuesday that "illegal" ramped-up output and poor maintenance at a state-owned coal mine in Shanxi province led to an accident that killed 10 workers last week.

The Danshuigou coal mine, near Shuozhou city and owned by China's second-largest producer China National Coal Group, has a quota from the provincial government to produce 900,000 tonnes of coal a year — or 75,000 tonnes per month.

But the mine has been producing up to five times that amount, at 400,000 tonnes in November and 260,000 tonnes in December, the work safety regulator said.

The over-quota output and poor maintenance at the mine contributed to a tunnel collapse on Jan. 17 last week that killed 10 workers, it also said.

"The lack of maintenance for coal workers' safety, the use of fake safety measurement data and ramped-out production rates all led to an accident with this coal mine that been granted a whole set of mining licenses," the work safety watchdog said.

The company has also been digging new tunnels that it knows are not seismically stable, the agency said.

ChinaCoal's spokesman Jiang Chun said in a phone call that the company has learned a lesson from the mine accident.

"ChinaCoal Group is seriously dealing with the case of illegal mining, and has started a company-wide investigation of over 50 mines on illegal output," he said.

ChinaCoal said the Danshuigou coal mine has already been closed until the company can address all the issues at the site.

Any coal mine that produces 10 percent more than its government quota will be shut down for an indefinite period, the safety agency said.

The statement from the safety agency is the first official acknowledgement that state-owned coal mines are involved in what it terms illegal mining since prices began to rally in mid-2016.

Price of thermal coal at the key northern port of Qinghuadao SH-QHA-TRMCOAL have soared 54 percent in the past 12 months to around $86 per tonne.

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