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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Safety Violations Found in Coal Mine

APA view of the Ulyanovskaya coal mine near Novokuznetsk, where a powerful explosion killed 108 people last week.
A federal safety watchdog said Monday that it had uncovered serious violations that might have caused the explosion in a west Siberian mine that killed at least 108 people last week.

"A preliminary investigation into the accident at the Ulyanovskaya mine in the Kemerovo region revealed blatant violations of the rules on the safe use of equipment," the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Atomic Inspection said in a statement.

Violations included flaws in the mine's ventilation system and evidence that the personnel in charge of the system had violated safety rules, agency spokesman Yevgeny Anoshin said.

Shortly after the accident, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters that the miners had struck an underground cavity filled with methane that was ignited by a random spark before the ventilation system could dissipate it.

The mine's owner, Yuzhkuzbassugol, is responsible for compliance with all safety regulations, Anoshin said.

A Yuzhkuzbassugol spokeswoman declined comment on the development.

"As far as I know, the state commission investigating the explosion will only descend into the mine and begin a detailed investigation after water is pumped out of the tunnels, a process that will take another two to three days," the spokeswoman, Marina Chalapko, said by telephone from Novokuznetsk.

A total of 103 of the 108 people who died in the March 19 blast had been identified by Monday, Interfax reported. Two miners remained missing.

Chalapko said the search for the two missing miners has been suspended until the water has been pumped out.

Anoshin said agency inspectors would complete their investigation and then share results with Kemerovo prosecutors, who opened a criminal investigation into the possible violation of mining safety regulations shortly after the explosion.

A spokesman for Kemerovo prosecutors, Alexei Bugayets, said his colleagues would ask independent experts to evaluate the federal agency's findings before deciding whether to incorporate them into their investigation.

"We need a legal assessment of what happened, not just technical conclusions," Bugayets said by telephone from Kemerovo.

Bugayets declined to comment on the investigation, noting only that it would take prosecutors several months to complete their work.

"We will also have to find out who is personally responsible for any possible violations," he said.

The charge of violating mining safety rules carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.

Bugayets said several employees at the mine and within Yuzhkuzbassugol could possibly face charges if safety rules were violated.

Last year, nine engineers from another Kemerovo coal mine, Listvyazhnaya, received suspended sentences for violating safety rules after 13 miners were killed by a methane explosion there in 2004.

Also Monday, a nationwide check of how coal-mining companies are complying with safety regulations was ordered by Konstantin Pulikovsky, head of the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological and Atomic Inspection. Checks of 60 coal mines in the Kemerovo region began Thursday.