Monday, January 30, 2006

Mittal and Arcelor - do they fit?


London, U.K. - 30th January 2006 One thing you can say about the Mittal family is that they think big, and they never fail to surprise! The announcement of a bid for Arcelor came out of the blue for most industry analysts. Mittal’s strategy has always been to grow by acquisition – the world’s biggest producer has never yet built a steelworks – but the target this time was certainly unexpected.

The synergy
From an operational point of view, there are clear advantages to both companies in a merger of this sort. The regions of the world where they would have significant market share include the established markets of North America and Europe, together with the growing emerging markets in South America and Africa.

Mittal on their own just do not have the facilities in Europe to challenge the high-end auto market, despite making flat products in Romania, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Arcelor, on the other hand have only a small foothold in the North American flat products market and have little in-house supplies of iron ore. (This was about to change however – see below).

So, apart from in Asia, the two combined would be dominant in high-value production and this would be complimented by Mittal’s low-cost commercial steel production in central Europe and elsewhere. They would be getting closer to the “one-stop-shop” (though the value of this can be debatable).

One of the relatively few markets where they compete is in heavy sections in Europe. However, Mittal are meant to be closing their heavy section mill in the Czech Republic – as part of the restructuring plan agreed with the EU at accession.

In general, Arcelor have the “richer” product mix – with average revenues per tonne much higher than those of Mittal Steel. This is because around 70% of their output is flat products (much of it cold rolled) and stainless steels, whilst Mittal’s mix includes about 20% of low-value semi-finished products.

Another aspect of synergy is related to the availability of “in-house” raw materials. Along with their steel company acquisitions in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, North America and Bosnia Mittal obtained significant reserves of iron ore. They are actively planning new mines in Africa and South America. By contrast, and if the Dofasco bid does not go ahead, Arcelor have very little. This is an area where cost savings will occur – both through the redirection of raw materials as well as stronger purchasing power with respect to external suppliers.

What does it mean for Arcelor?
After a disappointing year when they failed to acquire Kryvorizhstal and (initially) Erdemir, things were just starting to go well for Arcelor. They came to a deal with Oyak, the buyers of Erdemir, for a minority stake and have just won control of Dofasco. These two investments give them an extension into other parts of Europe, complementing their existing facilities in Turkey, a foothold in the North American high-end market, and a source or iron ore in the shape of Dofasco’s Canadian mines.

In many ways, this gave them most of what they were looking for – certainly for now. A successful integration of these companies into their existing network would have reinforced their position as the world’s No 2 steel maker, and probably the world’s No 1 in the quality market.

What does it mean for Mittal?
Although there are significant gains for Mittal Steel, one cannot help wondering whether their bid is partly for defensive reasons. The last thing they wanted was Arcelor to win Dofasco – and the timing of the bid must have been affected by Arcelor’s success in beating TKS to this acquisition.

That said, they gain improved R&D and product development abilities as well as quality steel making in Europe. They also get a different image. Until now (and with some exceptions in North America) they have thrived on turning around bankrupt or poorly managed companies. They have done this very successfully, but the problem is that the flow of such companies has slowed in recent years as the transition process and related privatisations have dried up.

This has meant them turning to more established companies. If they had wanted to enhance their position in Europe, and had chosen Corus or Riva as their target, one would have been less surprised. Either would have led to an easier ride with competition authorities and would have been easier to absorb. Arcelor, on the other hand, is big and rather corporate in the way it operates. How the cultures blend together will be a key element of whether the bid (if successful) leads to extracting the promised synergy.

Arcelor’s board will be miffed that there was less communication prior to the announcement and this will make it more difficult to secure a smooth transition in the event of their offer being accepted by shareholders.

What does it mean for the industry?
For years analysts have been complaining of the lack of consolidation within the industry. Lack of production discipline during times of weak demand is certainly one of the reasons for volatile prices. Any increase in consolidation may therefore benefit the whole industry.

It will also spur on the other big companies to look for suitable partners. The world has four main regions when it comes to steel production.

China is obviously the largest and will not be greatly affected by the merger. (Both companies have interests there but even when combined they will still be small players in the Chinese market.) If anything, it may encourage the companies and the Government to move faster in consolidating what is a very fragmented sector.

The big Japanese and Korean companies dominate the rest of Asia, albeit alongside many smaller producers. Nippon Steel, JFE and POSCO are all in the current top-10. They will be nervous that they are falling behind the global giants and, if the merger goes ahead, might be encouraged to forge links with a European or American producer.

Russia is still the big net-exporter of steel. It has cheap ore, coal and other energy and its companies are looking to expand beyond the region. They need good finishing end facilities - close to the market but where steel making costs are high. They will either look to pick up smaller stand-alone mills, or integrated companies where it might be advantageous to close their heavy end.

Finally there is the rest of the world. The big companies are Corus, TKS, and Riva in Europe; Nucor and US Steel in North America; and Gerdau in both North and South America. These companies will certainly be looking for partners in the coming months and years in order to be able to compete with the potential new giant.

So, do they fit?
The answer, of course, is yes in many ways: certainly in terms of geographical and product coverage, and certainly in terms of the raw materials benefits accruing to both companies.

On the other hand, the Group will be “big” but not terribly “focussed”. Arcelor have in the past valued their focus, perhaps more than anything, whilst Mittal have been prepared to produce any steel product that can turn a profit.

As, described above, the irony is that Arcelor were just getting their act together in terms of increasing their size but retaining their focus. They will fight hard to promote that vision to their shareholders.


See original press release from GSC 

For further information, contact:
Press enquiries: +44 (0) 1737 358 625

Mr Mike Mytton
Global Steel Consultants


About Global Steel Consultants

Global Steel Consultants is a network of independent steel advisers who specialise in strategic planning, steel restructuring, due diligence and project appraisal for an international client base. For further information, please contact:

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

EU steel prices unlikely to move up in 2006 [MEPS]

According to a MEPS report published today, EU steel prices are unlikely to move up during 2006.

Prices for flat and long products in Europe both saw a general decline during the course of 2005. But the fall was far smaller than it could have been, given the huge stock overhang and this is giving rise to hopes for more stability of pricing in 2006.

The MEPS weighted average transaction price for flat products  fell by 20% between January and December 2005. Mills cut their production, and prices dropped by less than they did in previous down-swings of the cycle. For long products, the MEPS average transaction price declined by a smaller margin – more than 9% over the year as a whole. From January’s €447 per tonne, the average fell to €352 per tonne in August – a substantial drop of 21%.

In January 2006, prices for both flat and long products stand at lower levels than they did a year ago, but are nevertheless very much higher than they were in January 2004, before the remarkable upsurge that took place later that year.

The outlook for flat and long product prices in Europe in 2006 is that, on average, they are likely to be lower than in 2005. It is difficult to envisage that Europe will escape the knock-on effects of global over-supply. The continent is very likely to see mounting pressure from import competition as the year progresses.

Flat product prices look most vulnerable to import pressure. The stock imbalance that loomed over the market for much of last year may have largely dissipated, but the market is still not ready to accept higher prices. Those mills that attempted to push through price rises of €20-30 per tonne in January have had no success so far – leaving the MEPS average transaction price this month unchanged from December.

With growing evidence of over-supply globally – especially in Asia – an increase in imports will pose a threat to EU markets. Last year when the mills cut their production, it gradually became clear they were not simply leaving a gap for imports to fill. This year, things might be different. Any void might well be plugged by the larger volumes of flat products now available internationally. The European mills might not reap the benefits of production cuts in the form of higher prices.

This is not to say that prices will fall through the floor. But it is difficult to see where any strong upward move will come from. There are signs of some improvement in industrial activity, notably in France and Germany. This may generate an increase in steel consumption. But any increased buying might equally go to imports.

In long products – with certain exceptions – imports are less of a threat to European mills. Fewer long-distance imports take place, although there are nearer sources of supply such as Turkey that could test European markets. Wire rod is one of the exceptions, and here the European mills are already making noises about anti-dumping action in an effort to scare off imports that they view as disruptive. They will be keeping their attention closely focused on import licensing and arrivals as 2006 proceeds.


Sunday, January 22, 2006

Massey Energy Statement of Sympathy [BlackDiamond]

RICHMOND, Va., Jan. 21 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Massey Energy Company issued the following statement after learning of the loss of its two members at the Company's Aracoma longwall mine in Logan County, West Virginia.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the two members we lost today, Don Bragg and Ellery "Elvis" Hatfield. Words cannot express how deeply saddened our company and community are by this tragic event.

Our collective efforts must now shift from the rescue operations to comforting the families and colleagues of our members, and helping them through this tragedy.

We also would like to express our profound appreciation to all the state and federal agencies, to the mine rescue teams, and to the members of the community who contributed to the efforts to rescue our members.

Massey Energy Company, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, with operations in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, is the fourth largest coal company in the United States based on produced coal revenue.

Source: Massey Energy Company

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Trapped Miners Found Dead [Sago Outrage]

MELVILLE, W.Va. - Rescuers on Saturday found the bodies of two coal
miners who disappeared after a conveyor belt caught fire deep inside
a coal mine.

The bodies of Don I. Bragg, 33, and Ellery Hatfield, 47, were found
in an area of the mine where rescue teams had been battling the fire
for more than 40 hours.

"We have found the two miners we were looking for," said Doug
Conaway, director of the state Office of Miners' Health Training and
Safety. "Unfortunately we don't have a positive outcome."

The miners became separated Thursday evening as their 12-member crew
tried to escape a conveyor belt fire at Aracoma Coal's Alma No. 1
mine in Melville, about 60 miles southwest of Charleston. The rest of
the crew and nine other miners working in a different section of the
mine escaped unharmed.

Gov. Joe Manchin and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller informed families of
the deaths at a church prior to making the announcement, along with
Don Blankenship, chairman of the mine's owner, Massey Energy.

To learn more about the sago_outrage group, please visit:

New Nightmare for Coal Country [BlackDiamond]

MELVILLE, W.Va. (Jan. 20) - Rescue teams searched deep inside a coal mine Friday for two miners who never made it out after an underground conveyer belt caught fire. Nineteen others had reached the surface safely and waited with relatives of the missing in a scene all too familiar in West Virginia.

The fire started Thursday evening inside the Alma No. 1 Mine operated by Massey Energy subsidiary Aracoma Coal, about 60 miles southwest of Charleston, officials said.

The rescue crews had yet to make contact with the two missing miners more than 20 hours after the fire started, said Doug Conaway, director of the state Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training.

"There's still a lot of this mine that we haven't been able to examine, and hopefully will be able to as soon as we can get that fire under control," he said.

The missing miners had just entered the mine for their evening shift when a carbon monoxide monitor, about 10,000 feet from the mine entrance, set off an alarm at 5:36 p.m., Conaway said.

About 10 minutes later, the company told the miners to get out, he said.

The missing miners were part of a group of 12 who encountered smoke as they left, put on breathing gear and continued to the surface, but only 10 of them made it out. Nine other miners in another part of the mine also escaped.

Governor Joe Manchin was at the mine Friday morning, and the miners' families and colleagues gathered at the nearby Brightstar Freewill Baptist Church to wait for news.

Less than three weeks earlier, the governor had joined another group of miners and relatives of missing miners after an explosion at the International Coal Group's Sago Mine, on the other side of the state. Twelve miners died in the disaster. The sole survivor, Randal McCloy Jr., 26, remained hospitalized in a light coma Friday.

"Sago is very fresh in everybody's mind, but this is a different scenario," Manchin said Friday. He said the families were hopeful but added, "They know that the odds are a little bit long."

Massey spokeswoman Katharine W. Kenny said, "We're very optimistic."

Friday morning, two of the rescue teams at the Aracoma mine were more than 10,000 feet inside and had reached the conveyer belt fire, which was still smoldering, Conaway said.

They tried to continuing on but the smoke was too thick, so they had to turn their effort to putting out the fire, Conaway said. Fire teams were using foam and water in that section, which has six miles of tunnels.

"We're making an effort here to contain the fire. We've seen it from a couple of different places but we don't know the extent of it," Conaway said. "The teams are in the process now of trying to fight that fire and get it under control."

Air samples from an existing hole near the fire showed elevated levels of carbon monoxide, although not as severe as levels at the Sago mine. At one point, rescue teams were in the mine without breathing gear, Conaway said.

"We're working as hard as we can ... to find those two miners," Conaway said.

Jesse Cole, with the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said listening equipment would be set up to try to locate them.

Haskell Sheppard, 29, works the overnight shift as a repairman on the main conveyor belt that brings the coal out. He said the line where the fire broke out had problems in the past, but nothing as serious as this time. Officials did not know how the fire started.

"Things are bound to tear up every once in a while," he said.

According to MSHA's Web site, the Alma mine received 95 citations from MSHA inspectors during 2005. The most recent were issued on Dec. 20, when the mine was cited with seven violations ranging from controlling coal dust and other combustible materials to its ventilation plan.

The mine was assessed $28,268 in penalties last year and it has paid nearly $13,000.

It has not had a fatal accident since 1995. The mine had a better-than-average accident rate between 2001 and 2004, but it increased last year when 16 workers and one contractor were injured.

On the other side of the state Friday, four U.S. senators were meeting with families of the 12 coal miners killed at the Sago Mine.

"What I hope today's visit provides is momentum to accomplish the most important mine safety legislation of a generation," said Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the Jan. 2 explosion. Rockefeller said the senators would conduct hearings on the disaster next week.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

2005 world crude steel production statistics

According to production statistics just released, world crude steel production increased by 5.9% in 2005, to reach a total of 1,129.4 million metric tons (mmt), according to the International Iron and Steel Institute (IISI). China accounted for most of the increase. Crude steel production in China rose by 69 mmt (or 24.6%) to 349.4 mmt.

This means that production in China is currently increasing by the astonishing rate of well over a million tonnes a week...

For complete IISI press release, see

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Coal mine investigation to look into Sago Mine accident

The Associated Press reports that an investigation is to look into the causes of the recent accident at the Sago Mine.

Investigators will probably look for scorch marks and melted plastic, examine mining equipment for signs of a short-circuit, establish whether the methane gas detectors were working and take air samples to check for combustible coal dust.

They are also likely to take notice of where the bodies lay, track the victims' footprints and perhaps look for farewell notes.

It is federal and state investigators who will most likely go in and begin gathering forensic clues in an effort to establish exactly what touched off the explosion.

At the same time, other investigators will probably search through safety records and interview just about everyone connected with the mine.

The blast on 2nd January killed one miner and spread carbon monoxide that slowly asphyxiated 11 other men some 260 feet below the ground.

"It's the same approach, in that every bit of evidence is very crucial," said Richard Begley, a former mine boss, now an engineering professor at Marshall University, reports the Associated Press [A.P.].

Investigators already have some clues, including a sort of timeline written by one of the trapped miners, and a place to start: Rescue workers discovered that all of the seals on a closed-off section of the mine had been blown toward the surface, indicating that was where the explosion took place.

"With an explosion you want to know where and how it was initiated," said Terry Farley, a member of the state investigative team reports A.P. "We want to know how the fuel came to be, the buildup of gases, how that came about. That's not uncommon in a sealed area."

To pinpoint the cause, the investigation team - which typically includes engineers, mine safety supervisors and mine ventilation experts - will most likely look for charring and other burn patterns, said Chris Hamilton, a former mine foreman and mine rescue instructor who is now the senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association. And they will want to ask miners who escaped to describe conditions in the mine just before the explosion, he said.

Tests conducted during the rescue detected high levels of carbon monoxide, and rescue workers found little evidence of fire. That suggests the explosion was probably caused by methane alone, and not, say, coal dust stirred up by the miners, Begley said.

Past investigations by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration looked at whether methane detectors were working, and studied barometric pressure readings around the time of the accident, said Ellen Smith, editor of the newsletter Mine Safety and Health News. Such changes in pressure can release the odorless, colorless gas from the earth...

For full A.P. report, see

Saturday, January 07, 2006

In past ventures, safety a concern for owners of stricken mine [BlackDiamond]

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The billionaire bargain-hunter who last year bought the West Virginia mine where 12 miners died this week says he never stints on safety when he moves into troubled industries like textiles, steel and now coal.

The mine's checkered safety history, including some violations since an investor group led by Wilbur Ross purchased it, is facing harsh scrutiny since the Monday explosion trapped miners in a poison-aired section.

But many workers and even union leaders back up Ross's contention that, as he puts companies through tough reforms that can involve shutdowns of some operations and streamlining of others to improve efficiency and profits, he does not cut safety-related spending.

Ross told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that his year-old International Coal Group Inc. invested more than $135 million to improve old equipment and make other safety improvements at its mines, including a $40 million advance on its purchase of Anker West Virginia Mining Co. so that improvements could be made quickly.

"We are extremely safety oriented," Ross said. "And while it is certainly true that we try to run efficient operations, first of all we have never, in any company in which we have invested, ever declined one penny of either expense or capex (capital expenditure) for any safety activity."

Ross, 68, led the group of investors who formed ICG in May 2004 by buying most of the assets of bankrupt coal operators Anker and Horizon Natural Resources. Anker included the Sago Mine, where a Monday morning explosion trapped the miners 260 feet underground.

Ross is a master bargain hunter, having formed Cleveland-based International Steel Group Inc. in 2002 after buying the remnants of bankrupt LTV Corp., then several other bankrupt U.S. steelmakers. When that industry was in the midst of a rebirth, he sold ISG to Dutch steelmaker Ispat International NV and LNM Holdings NV Now for $4.5 billion last year, forming the world's largest steel company, Mittal Steel Co.

Like steel, mining is booming again because of demand for coal-powered energy. And like mining, steel is a physical industry where generations of families have worked in mills, many more than 100 years old with aging equipment and the dangers of fiery furnaces, molten steel and equipment that could crush a man in an instant.

"We want to work safe and get out of there in one piece to get home to our families," said longtime steelworker Eddie Reust who worked for ISG in Cleveland. Ross' company made things better in the mills, he said: "It wasn't just show and go. They're much more safety conscious than LTV."

In the steel ventures, ISG closed some older sections of plants. In other mills, the company replaced old equipment, added computer monitoring so problems could be fixed immediately and modified blast furnaces that can get as hot as 1,600 degrees by adding equipment to prevent explosions.

And in a move key to an improved safety record, ISG recalled the oldest, most knowledgeable employees--the Cleveland mill had 1,500 workers with a combined 35,000 years of steelmaking experience _ even though they were more expensive.

Former ISG steelworkers say they often underwent safety training and were rewarded in pay and other bonuses such as grocery store gift cards when the number of workplace accidents went down.

Unlike at Sago, unions represent Mittal workers in most U.S. mills. Mike Wright, director of health, safety and environment for the United Steelworkers of America in Pittsburgh, said Ross and ISG had a good safety record with his union.

Perhaps one of Ross' most challenging investments when it comes to safety is mining, a reborn industry that has been struggling to attract enough workers to keep up with demand. Unlike steel, where wisdom ruled, many younger and less experienced people have been taking mining jobs because of perks such as high pay and free health insurance.

Ashland, Ky.-based ICG inherited the Sago Mine, about 100 miles northeast of Charleston, when it bought Anker and began running the mine Nov. 21, said Gene Kitts, an ICG executive.

By then, the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration had cited Sago for 194 alleged violations of federal regulations in 2005; it issued 14 more citations by year's end. The mine also reported 20 roof falls last year, most recently on Dec. 5.

Kitts said ICG had greatly improved safety at the mine since.

"We're working to improve the safety program across the board," Kitts said. "We're instilling the notion that this is a continuous improvement process."

Denver Anderson, 61, has worked at the Sago Mine since May as a utility worker. He was in a group of miners just behind those who were trapped and said ICG was more dedicated to safety than the previous owner.

"They seem concerned about it," Anderson said. "They was going to have special safety meetings and everything for us. They had that lined up for the future. We had one in September. Things to prevent accidents and violations."

MSHA said ICG has corrected all but three of the significant violations. The remaining issues, which relate to roof control, are in the process of being fixed, the agency said.

Charles Bradford, an analyst with Bradford Research-Soleil Securities Corp., said he doubts the accident will affect ICG's business.

"Coal mining is inherently a dangerous business," he said, adding that there is no correlation between mine safety and profitability.

ICG reported $4.2 million in 2004 on sales of $136 million. With 1,425 employees in West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Illinois, it estimated its coal reserves at 572 million tons in January 2005.

ICG raised $215.4 million in mid-December when it went public. Shares have been trading on the New York Stock Exchange since then between $8.94 and $13.10, with the low being reached this week after the accident.

Ross said he's not sure how long the investigation that has the Sago Mine closed will go on, but he's as anxious as anyone to find out what caused the blast.

"We'll understand whether there is any broader implication either for this mine, for mines in general or for the industry in general," he said "And we'll also understand what corrective action should be taken in the future to try to make sure that whatever caused this tragedy doesn't recur."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Officials Piece Together Coal Mine Tragedy [BlackDiamond]

TALLMANSVILLE, W.Va. - Most of the 13 coal miners trapped in an explosion survived the blast itself, retreated deeper into the mine and hung up a curtain-like barrier to keep out toxic gases while they waited to be rescued, officials said Wednesday. All but one were found dead after more than a day and a half.

The miners' families learned of the 12 deaths after a harrowing night in which they were mistakenly told at first that 12 of the men were alive. It took three hours before the families were told the truth, and their joy turned instantly to fury.

The sole survivor, Randal McCloy, was in critical condition with a collapsed lung and dehydration but no sign of brain damage or carbon monoxide poisoning after being trapped for more than 42 hours, a doctor said. At 27, McCloy was one of the youngest in the group.

The last of the 12 bodies were taken out of the mine at midmorning.

One of the dead was found at least 700 feet from where the others had barricaded themselves in the maze-like mine, officials said. Ben Hatfield, chief executive of mine owner International Coal Group, said the miner was apparently killed by the force of the blast.

The cause of death for the other men was not immediately disclosed. But McCoy and the 11 others did as they were trained to do, and huddled behind a fabric barrier they had set up to keep out carbon monoxide gas, which had been detected in deadly concentrations inside the mine, Hatfield and state officials said.

The fabric — designed specifically for use as a gas barrier in an accident — was stretched across an area about 20 feet wide, Hatfield said.

Also, each of the miners in the barricaded area had a breathing apparatus that purifies the air and had been able to use it, according to mine officials.

How long they survived was not immediately disclosed. But on Tuesday morning, rescuers drilled a narrow hole near the spot and got no response when they banged on a steel pipe and listened for an answer.

It was the nation's deadliest coal mining disaster in more than four years.

The devastating information about the dead shocked and angered family members, who had rejoiced with Gov. Joe Manchin hours earlier when word spread that 12 miners were alive. Bystanders applauded as they saw McCloy brought from the mine early Wednesday, not realizing he would be the only one to make it out alive.

"I can only say there was no one who did anything intentionally other than risk their lives to save their loved ones," Manchin told ABC's "Good Morning America."

"No one can say anything about that would make anything any better," he said. "Just a horrible situation."

McCloy was reported to be unconscious but moaning when he arrived at the hospital. He was in the intensive care unit at West Virginia University's Ruby Memory Hospital at Morgantown. Doctors said he was under sedation and on a ventilator to help with his breathing.

"He responds to stimuli and that's good," Dr. Lawrence Roberts said. Most of the other miners were in their 50s, and doctors said McCloy's youth may have helped him survive.

Charles Green, McCloy's father-in-law, told ABC that when he found out his son-in law was the only survivor, "I was still devastated. My whole family's heart goes out to them other families."

President Bush said the entire nation mourns the loss, and he saluted the rescuers "who risked their lives to save those miners for showing such courage."

The miners had been trapped 260 feet down since Monday morning in the Sago Mine, which is shaped like a large backward "F" and situated about 100 miles northeast of Charleston. As rescue workers tried to reach the men, families waited at the Sago Baptist Church during a grueling vigil.

The cause of the blast remained under investigation. But coal mine explosions are typically caused by buildups of naturally occurring methane gas or highly combustible coal dust in the air.

But late Tuesday night, families began streaming out of the church, yelling "They're alive!" The church bells began ringing and families embraced, as politicians proclaimed word of the apparent rescue a miracle. The governor was among those who announced there were 12 survivors.

Hatfield blamed the wrong information on a "miscommunication." The news spread after people overheard cell phone calls, he said. In reality, rescuers had only confirmed finding 12 miners and were checking their vital signs. At least two family members in the church said they received cell phone calls from a mine foreman.

"That information spread like wildfire, because it had come from the command center," he said.

Hatfield said it became clear within 20 minutes that the news was terribly wrong. But he said families were not told of the mistake until three hours later because officials wanted to have all the information right first.

"Let's put this in perspective. Who do I tell not to celebrate? I didn't know if there were 12 or one" alive, the executive said.

When the bad news was delivered to the families, "there was no apology. There was no nothing. It was immediately out the door," said Nick Helms, son of miner Terry Helms, one of the dead.

Chaos broke out in the church and a fight started. About a dozen state troopers and a SWAT team were positioned along the road near the church because police were concerned about violence. Witnesses said one man had to be wrestled to the ground when he lunged for mining officials.

A hole drilled into the mine nearby earlier during the ordeal found deadly levels of carbon monoxide, a byproduct of combustion. The odorless, colorless gas can be lethal at high doses. At lower levels, it can cause headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, fatigue and brain damage.

The explosion was West Virginia's deadliest coal mining accident since 1968, when 78 men — including Manchin's uncle — died in an explosion at a mine in Marion County, an hour's drive from here. Nineteen bodies remain entombed in the mountain. It was that disaster that prompted Congress to pass the Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969.

It was the nation's worst coal mining disaster since a pair of explosions tore through a mine in Brookwood, Ala., on Sept. 23, 2001, killing 13.

Federal Labor Department officials promised an investigation. Acting Assistant Secretary David Dye, who heads the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said it will include "how emergency information was relayed about the trapped miners' conditions."

Manchin, who had earlier said that the state believed in miracles, tried to focus on the news that one had survived.

"We're clinging to one miracle when we were hoping for 13," he said.

Monday, January 02, 2006

ZISCO reportedly close to collapse

News reports are emerging about the apparent impending collapse of ZISCO, Zimbabwe leading steelmaker. Press reports suggest that some US $250m is needed to put the business back on its feet. Any willing investors out there with the odd dollar to spare?

For full report, visit