Turkey, Soma mining disaster

20 years in prison for the owner of the mine where 301 miners died

In May 2014, 301 miners were killed in the worst mining disaster in Turkey’s history after a fire broke out at 2 km underground.

A Turkish court today issued a 20-year prison sentence for the owner of the Soma mine, in the Turkish province of Manisa, in which 301 miners died in 2014 in a terrible accident considered the worst mining disaster in the history of Turkey.

According to Turkish media, Can Gürkan, CEO and owner of the mining company Soma Kömür Işletmeler (Soma Coal Operations) that managed the mine where the disaster occurred, would have received a sentence of 20 years in prison, while two engineers from the mine received sentences of 12 years in prison each. Another of the defendants was acquitted.

Gürkan, who in 2018 had received a 15-year prison sentence for the accident (a verdict that sparked outrage among the families of the victims), had been released in April 2019, but later an appeal court overturned that decision. Gürkan was one of 5 defendants from the mining company staff, charged with reckless manslaughter by deliberate negligence for the deaths by suffocation of 301 miners.

Hundreds of miners trapped 2 kilometres underground

On May 13, 2014, a fire broke out at the Soma coal mine trapping hundreds of workers underground; fate determined that the mine at that time was more crowded than usual because the fire occurred during a shift change. Although many miners managed to get out, the rest were trapped at a depth of 2 kilometres and died asphyxiated by smoke and lack of oxygen.

The disaster was devastating for the small mining community of Soma, where the vast majority of the population depended on the mine and had a family member working there, and highlighted the lack of security in many mines in Turkey, where many entrepreneurs do not comply with a legislation that, on the other hand, had to be reformed to increase inspections and measures designed to protect the lives of miners.

That is the only positive point that can be drawn from the tragedy that struck the Soma mine and skewed the lives of 301 miners. The Turkish State paid more than 2.5 million euros in compensation to the surviving workers and the families of the deceased, to whom it also offered aid and jobs in the public sector, since in many cases the deceased miner brought home the only salary the family lived on.