While little information was provided about the mining site Baiyin city -- which boasts terrain that is part mountain and part desert -- was originally established as a national copper mining base in the 1950s.

Mining accidents occur frequently in China, where the industry has a bad safety record and regulations are often poorly enforced.

Safety has improved in recent decades, however, as has the media coverage of major incidents, many of which were once overlooked.

But the sector remains dangerous and safety instructions are often lax, especially on the most rudimentary sites.

Last September, 19 miners stranded underground after the collapse of a coal mine in Qinghai province in the country's northwest were found dead after a long search.

Three months later in northern Shanxi province, hundreds of rescuers were dispatched to a flooded coal mine that left miners trapped. Twenty workers were rescued, and two bodies were recovered after a dramatic two-day operation.

Authorities in response have vowed to crack down on illegal digging operations which had spiked in the wake of price surges for the fossil fuel.

And earlier last year, 11 miners from a group of 22 were rescued from a collapsed mine in eastern Shandong province, after spending two weeks stranded hundreds of meters underground.

China relies on coal for around 60 per cent of its electricity, and has asked domestic miners to increase capacity by 300 million tons this year.

The State Council, China's cabinet, in May announced 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) of investment in coal power generation, as producers were pressured to ramp up output before 2025, after which President Xi Jinping has vowed to phase down its use.

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