Coal mine fire kills 26 in China: Xinhua

BEIJING - A fire at a Chinese coal mine killed 26 workers early Wednesday, state media reported, the latest fatal incident to hit the accident-prone industry.

The blaze at the mine in the northeastern province of Liaoning also left 50 people injured, the official Xinhua news agency said, quoting the state-owned Fuxin Coal Corporation.

Among those taken to hospital, mostly with burns and respiratory injuries, 30 were seriously hurt and four were in life-threatening condition.

Initial investigations showed that coal dust in a shaft was ignited shortly after a weak earthquake with a magnitude of just 1.6 hit the mine, said the report.

Rescue operations had been completed, it added, and production had been suspended for safety checks.

The mine went into operation in 1987 and is one of the biggest coal producers in the region, with an annual production capacity of 1.5 million tonnes, Xinhua said. It employs 4,660 people.

China's mines are among the world's deadliest because of lax regulation, corruption and poor operating procedures. Safety is often neglected by bosses seeking easy profits and accidents are common.

Last year the country recorded 589 mining-related accidents, which left 1,049 people dead or missing, according to the government.

Both the number of accidents and fatalities were down more than 24 per cent from 2012.

But labour rights groups have said the actual death toll is likely to be much higher than official data, partly due to under-reporting of accidents as mine bosses seek to limit economic losses and avoid punishment.

Authorities have tried to shut down small mines, a major source of accidents, in an effort to consolidate the industry.

The government plans to close more than 2,000 small coal mines by the end of next year, Xinhua reported in July.

Fuxin Coal is a large miner owned by the state, where safety measures are meant to be more strictly implemented. But it has seen incidents in the past.

In February 2005, 214 people were killed and another 30 injured in a gas explosion at another of the company's mines.

Last year eight workers died in a gas leak at a separate facility.

Multiple coal mine accidents have been reported this year.

In June 22 people were killed in an accident at a coal mine in the southwestern city of Chongqing.

And 20 people died in April when a coal mine in the southwestern province of Yunnan was suddenly flooded, leaving miners trapped.

China is the world's biggest consumer of coal, relying on it for 65.7 per cent of its energy needs last year, Xinhua reported previously.