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15 Jun, 2008 02:37

Divers search for miners at Kark Marx mine

Divers in Ukraine are still searching for twelve workers missing after last weekend's gas explosion at the Karl Marx coal mine in Donetsk. According to the latest reports, the mine is flooded with more than 30m of water. It's thought some men may be in th

Twenty-four of the 37 miners who were down the pit were rescued soon after the blast.  But gloom has descended on the relatives of those who remain 1,000m below ground.

The head of the investigation committee believes they were at the epicentre of the explosion and wouldn't have survived.

The Karl Marx mine failed to pass a safety inspection just days before the accident, but investigators say the extraction work continued regardless.

They claim the miners struck upon a rich seam of methane which leaked and ignited near the surface, causing the blast.

“All the witnesses tell me that only repair work was going on in the mine at the time. Yet we have incontrovertible evidence this is not the case. We have logs and recordings of conversations between the miners and the operators to prove it,” chief investigator Nikolay Maleev said.

Meanwhile, it is not just the colliery management who are interested in keeping the mines going, despite frequent accidents.

The miners are paid for every tonne of coal they quarry. Just hours after the explosion they gathered outside, demanding to be assigned to a new pit.

Almost all the jobs at the nearby town are connected with the mine.

Ukraine's transition from a planned economy to the free market has been difficult for this region.

The Karl Marx mine has never been a profitable one, yet the government wants to keep it going for what it calls “social reasons”.

Coal Industry Minister Viktor Poltavets said efforts had been made to: “retrain the miners here for other professions”.

“So far, we have failed. We can make this industry viable but that requires large-scale investment,” Poltavets said.

However, the government has not been able to come up with the necessary funding to expand the capacity or even upgrade safety equipment.

Just a few miles away is the Zasyadko mine, where another blast killed more than a hundred people last November.

Ukrainian politicians said then it must never happen again.