(Bloomberg) -- Four workers trapped underground after an earth tremor at a Sibanye Gold Ltd. mine in South Africa have died, bringing the number of people killed at the company’s operations this year to at least 10.
Another three workers were still trapped at the Driefontein mine, after six others were brought to the surface since a cave-in Thursday afternoon, Sibanye spokesman James Wellsted said Friday. The miners, who are trapped kilometers miles) underground, are not responding to attempts to contact or locate them, he said.
The incident adds to an already tough year for Sibanye, which reported four previous fatal accidents since January. The company’s shares recently dropped to two-year lows after a stronger rand squeezed profits and as it faces pressure to cut debt. Sibanye’s borrowings swelled after a series of deals that transformed it from a staid and steady gold producer into a diversified precious-metals miner with both southern African and U.S. assets.
“The gold sector has seen an increase in fatalities this year, with Sibanye-Stillwater as one of the main contributors,” Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe said in a statement. “This suggests that greater attention be paid to issues of safety, particularly the protection of the lives of workers, as opposed to the insistence of chasing production.”
Sibanye shares fell 4.1 percent in Johannesburg, extending this year’s decline to 29 percent. Driefontein produced 482,000 ounces of gold in 2017, accounting for about a third of Sibanye’s output of the metal.
South African gold mines are among the world’s deepest and oldest, with workers going further and further underground to access new ore in a country that’s been mined commercially for over a century. While safety has improved since the end of whites-only rule in 1994, fatalities in the sector increased last year for the first time in a decade.
The Driefontein accident was caused by a seismic event at about 1:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, Sibanye said. The Department of Mineral Resources and all unions have been notified and are on site to assist with the rescue efforts. The six rescued miners have been hospitalized.
The previous fatal accidents at Sibanye this year included two people who were killed at Driefontein in separate incidents. In February, nearly 1,000 workers spent more than a day trapped underground at Sibanye’s Beatrix mine after a severe storm collapsed power lines supplying the operation.
“Government is the regulator so it’s for the government to see if these mines are compliant with health and safety,” Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union President Joseph Mathunjwa said Friday.
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