KUCHING - The Selantik coal mine will be sealed off over the next 48 hours due to high levels of methane and flooding in the lower passages.
Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department director Nor Hisham Mohammad said the Hazardous Materials Unit (Hazmat) recorded a reading of 20 per cent.
"Any reading between 20 per cent and 40 per cent means the air is ideal for ignition," he told reporters yesterday evening. "We are also worried the tunnels are producing carbon monoxide."
He said methane and carbon monoxide were by-products of coal-mining.
Nor Hisham said part of the reason for the longer-than-expected sealing of the mine was due to the department's lack of confidence in the mining operator, adding that rescuers no longer trusted the company's supervisors and engineers.
"For example, we don't dare use their exhaust systems or turn on any switch because the original switches might not have been insulated properly," he said.
"We are not listening to the people at the mine,'' he added.
The state fire chief also disclosed that when the first call was made to report the explosion, the caller refused to be identified.
"That raised our suspicions. Why that happened, we do not know, but this will certainly be one aspect of our investigations," said Nor Hisham.
Iskandar Apet, who led the first five-member Hazmat team some 260m into the mine, said the decision to seal off the mine and stop exploring was because the methane concentration grew as they went deeper.
"We also disconnected the power supply outside, including the water pump used to drain water out," he said. "At about midnight, water from a nearby river began to seep into the lower tunnels."