LONDON (AP) — Kazakhstan confirmed the nationalization of ArcelorMittal Temirtau which operates the country’s largest steel plants and several coal and ore mines following a coal mine fire that killed on Saturday, according to emergency services, at least 32 workers while another 14 remained unaccounted for.
Some 252 people were working at the Kostenko coal mine in the Karaganda region at the time of the blaze, the site’s operating company, ArcelorMittal Temirtau, confirmed in a statement. It said the fire was believed to have been caused by a pocket of methane gas.
The fire is the latest in a string of workplace deaths at sites operated by ArcelorMittal Temirtau. In August, four miners were killed after a fire erupted at the same mine, while five people died following a methane leak at another site in November 2022.
The company confirmed Saturday that it was finalizing a deal with the Kazakh government to nationalize the firm amid growing discontent from officials.
Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov said in a statement on the Kazakh president’s website the government had reached a preliminary agreement with the company's shareholders and was now in the process of “formalizing” the nationalization.
Speculation around the company's future had been growing since September, when Kazakhstan’s first deputy prime minister, Roman Sklyar, told journalists that the government had started talks with potential investors to buy out ArcelorMittal after becoming increasingly unhappy with its failure to meet investment obligations and repeated worker safety violations.
Speaking on Saturday, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev announced Oct. 29 as a national day of mourning in Kazakhstan. The office of the country’s Prosecutor General has also said it was starting an investigation into potential safety violations in the coal mine.
In a statement, ArcelorMittal Temirtau said that work had been halted at all of their coal mining sites in Kazakhstan. It also conveyed “pain” at the lives lost and said its efforts “are now aimed at ensuring that affected employees receive comprehensive care and rehabilitation, as well as close cooperation with government authorities.”
ArcelorMittal Temirtau is the local representative for Luxembourg-based multinational ArcelorMittal, the world’s second-largest steel producer.
Besides worker safety concerns, ArcelorMittal Temirtau has also fallen under scrutiny in recent years for its environmental violations.
The Kazakh city of Temirtau — the company’s namesake and home of its steel plant — made global headlines in 2018 after being blanketed in black snow, a phenomenon that the company attributed to a lack of wind.
In November 2021, local residents also shared videos of the town carpeted in fine, magnetic dust.
Following the November 2022 deaths, Tokayev said that more than 100 workers had died at ArcelorMittal sites in Kazakhstan since 2006.