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Saturday, 22 June, 2002, 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK
Tanzania suspends gem mining
The Tanzanian Government has suspended all mining in the north of the country after up to 42 miners died following the failure of a fresh air pump.

The disaster happened on Thursday at Mererani, near Mount Kilimanjaro - the only place in the world where the gemstone tanzanite is found.

Tanzanite
Tanzanite is only found in the Mererani area
Daniel ole Njoolay, the regional commissioner for Arusha, said there would be no more mining in the area until all the bodies had been recovered. Fourteen have been retrieved so far.

The victims are about 125 metres (410 feet) underground and about 300 metres (985 feet) along a horizontal tunnel.

Mining officials said 32 miners were registered to work in the mine when the pump failed, but another 10 miners were believed to have died in an initial rescue attempt.

Hazardous mines

Correspondents say tanzanite mines are relatively primitive and lack proper safety equipment.

They say miners are usually young men who often remain underground while carrying out blasting.

They use oxygen pumps fitted with long hoses to pump air down into the mines.

The mines amount to little more than holes hundreds of metres deep and are notoriously dangerous.

In 1998 more than 50 people died after heavy rain flooded the mines.

The Mererani district is rich in deposits of tanzanite - a gemstone with a generally violet-blue hue which earns Tanzania about $8m annually on the world market.

See also:

11 Feb 02 | Africa
07 Feb 02 | Africa
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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