(Updates with Chinese coal prices in fifth paragraph.)
Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- A coal-mine explosion in China on Oct. 29 that took this month’s death toll from known pit accidents in the country to almost 100 may increase demand for imports as the government curtails some production.
Twenty-nine people died in a blast at a mine in Hengyang city in central Hunan province, state broadcaster China Central Television reported on its website yesterday. Publicly disclosed mining fatalities in October total 97, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg from state media reports.
China, the world’s biggest user and producer of coal, became a net importer of the fuel for the first time in 2009 as a plan to consolidate thousands of mines to boost safety cut domestic output. Accidents this year may prompt local governments to shut some pits and delay the start-up of new or upgraded mines, said David Fang, a director at the China Coal Transport and Distribution Association.
“Some production may suffer because of increased safety concerns, especially in the south where a lot of these accidents happened,” Fang said by telephone in Beijing. “That may drive up imports by coastal regions.”
Overseas purchases rose to a record 19.1 million metric tons last month. Benchmark power-station coal at Qinhuangdao port in China has climbed 3 percent since Sept. 11 as utilities stockpiled the fuel ahead of winter. Prices were at a three-year high of 850 yuan ($133) to 860 yuan a ton as of yesterday, according to data from the China Coal Transport and Distribution Association.
The Chinese government is shutting pits and sacking officials to shake the nation’s record of having the world’s deadliest mines. An average of more than six people a day died in the country’s coal mines last year compared with 48 people for the entire year in the U.S., the world’s second-biggest producer, data from the two governments show. China last year ordered supervisors to accompany miners into the pits.
In 2009, more than 100 people were killed in an explosion in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang. That was the nation’s worst mining disaster since December 2007, when 105 were killed at the Xinyao pit in Shanxi. Last year, a blast in central Henan province killed at least 48 miners.
The Oct. 29 explosion in Hunan was the deadliest this month. In other accidents, 17 were killed in Guizhou, 14 in Henan, 13 each in Chongqing and Heilongjiang and 11 in Shaanxi, according to reports by the official Xinhua News Agency.
The Chinese government aims to reduce deaths per million metric tons of coal produced by more than 28 percent in the five years through 2015, according to a circular published earlier this month. The number of people killed in coal mines declined 28 percent to 1,419 in the first nine months of this year compared with a year earlier, Xinhua reported on Oct. 21, citing Zhao Tiechui, head of the State Administration of Coal-Mine Safety.
--Editors: Paul Gordon, Amit Prakash
To contact the reporter on this story: Chua Baizhen in Beijing at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at firstname.lastname@example.org