Dozens of Illegal miners exit Ghana gold mine where they were feared trapped

(LONDON) — Dozens of illegal miners have safely exited an underground gold mine shaft in the Ashanti region of Ghana after they were feared trapped.

Several illegal miners are reported to have entered AngloGold Ltd.’s Obuasi Mines in Anwiam, Ashanti Region, in search of gold deposits. However, the miners found themselves unable to exit after the entrances were shut.

At least 86 illegal miners have thus far exited the mine and are currently in custody of the Ghana Police Service, AngloGold Ashanti Ghana told ABC News on Wednesday.

“Intrusion of illegal miners into underground areas remains a significantly dangerous activity and AngloGold Ashanti Ghana is working alongside authorities to ensure that only authorized personnel and contractors can access underground work areas,” the company said.

In a statement sent to ABC News on Tuesday, AngloGold confirmed they are aware of reports alleging that illegal miners may have been trapped in the northern areas of their mine: “Obuasi Gold Mine’s management team has notified the relevant authorities and public security services and is working closely with them.”

Several illegal miners are reported to have been in the mine, according to local reports, with devastated family members of the miners telling local media that they have been unable to reach them for as much as four days.

No injuries have been reported thus far.

AngloGold has however denied any of the illegal miners were trapped or “confined in any way,” saying the main exit ramp — where security and police remain — were open: “Unauthorized persons underground are able to exit on foot, via the existing ramp, through the main access of this mining area.”

Local media reported that tensions have been high in Obuasi, with military personnel and police being deployed to Obuasi Police station and reports of gunshots being fired to disperse angry crowds who had gathered calling for release of their colleagues.

AngloGold Ltd. is the world’s fourth largest gold producer. According to AngloGold, their Obuasi underground mine operation runs to a depth of 1,500 meters at its deepest point. It has produced 250koz of gold, with a workforce of 4,403 people, including contractors.

Studies have found that rising unemployment coupled with the lucrativeness of mining — Ghana is a leading gold producing nation in Africa — has led to an upsurge in miners, many of whom operate illegally as a means to earn a living. Gold mining is a lucrative revenue source for corporations and small scale and artisanal miners alike; the artisanal and small-scale mining sector is estimated to employ up to one million people in Ghana.

According to Ghana’s Minerals and Mining Act, persons partaking in small-scale mining are required to obtain a license, however regulation of small-scale mining in Africa’s top gold-producing nation has been mostly unsuccessful, with research finding that over 85 percent of small-scale mining still occurs illegally. Poor regulation has also led to the occurrence human rights violations in Ghana’s artisanal and small-scale mining trade such as of child labor, according to the Human Rights Watch.

“Intrusion of illegal miners into underground areas remains a significantly dangerous activity and AngloGold Ashanti Ghana is working alongside authorities to ensure that only authorized mine personnel and contractors can access underground work areas,” AngloGold tells ABC.

ABC reached out to Ghana’s Mineral Commission, who confirmed that the incident is ongoing, but declined to comment further.

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