An Optimum Coal colliery. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
An Optimum Coal colliery. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

A rescue operation is reportedly under way at the Gupta’s Gloria Coal mine after a gas explosion trapped 22 people underground.

It’s believed that a group of 42 people were attempting to steal cables from the underground operations at the Middleburg mine when the explosion occurred.  Twenty of them were able to reach safety, the rest remained trapped.

The Gloria mine forms part of the Optimum Coal assets bought by the Gupta family in 2016. They were put into business rescue in February 2018. Business rescue is a provision of the Companies Act that allows for the rehabilitation of distressed companies.

The rescue process has, however, been hobbled by numerous delays, including 44 unsuccessful court bids. More recently, the drafting of a revised business rescue plan was pushed back as last-minute bids for the assets came in, and Eskom, the largest creditor, has sought more time to meet the potential new owners and negotiate a coal supply agreement for its Hendrina power station.

Bouwer van Niekerk, attorney for the Optimum rescue practitioners said the incident is a tragedy. Its not yet known what condition the trapped people are in.

Van Niekerk said it is suspected that the gas was methane, which is known to be the cause of many fatal explosions at coal mines.

The Optimum workers have not received their salaries since October and have not reported to work since early December.  The Middleburg Observer reported that the mine has been struggling with cable theft during this period.