A coal shipment underway in China. (Image by Rob Loftis, Wikimedia Commons).

China has halted operations at 32 open-pit coal mines in the northwestern Inner Mongolia region, according to industry consultancy MySteel on Tuesday, after increased safety checks in the region following a major accident.

The mines, with a total 26.55 million tonnes of production capacity, were named in a document issued by the National Mine Safety Administration, according to Shanghai-based MySteel.

blank.gifThe document, posted online by other trade media and dated April 24, could not be independently verified by Reuters.

The National Mine Safety Administration declined to confirm or deny the authenticity of the document.

An additional 23.55 million tonnes of planned expansions at the mines have also been paused, according to the document.

The closures follow an accident in late February at an open-pit coal mine near the town of Alxa League which killed at least five and left 48 people missing.

While the measures were unlikely to have a big effect on thermal coal given sufficient supply in the broader Asian market, it was likely to tighten coking coal supplies, said Pei Hao, a Shanghai-based senior analyst at international brokerage firm FIS.

“The production capacity of high-quality coking coal has not significantly increased, and the Inner Mongolia safety inspection launched in March has already affected some production,” he said.

The measures were however a “regional issue” that were not likely to be introduced in other major coal producing provinces.

Beijing has repeatedly stressed the need to develop the country’s coal mining capacity as part of a recent drive to strengthen domestic energy security, reopening previously-shuttered mines and digging deeper at existing projects.

The number of accidents in China’s coal mines doubled between 2021 and 2022, with fatalities jumping to a six year high of 245 following government calls to step up coal production.

(By Andrew Hayley, Ningwei Qin and Muyu Xu; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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