Minister may step up sanctions for S.African mines
* 63 miners killed this year
* Fire setback to government safety drive
* Deputy minister signals campaign ongoing
* Govt may consider more mine closures
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG, July 10 (Reuters) - South Africa's deputy mines minister has threatened to step up sanctions, including closures, for mines which flout health and safety rules resulting in fatalities.
Godfrey Oliphant was speaking at a memorial service for five miners, from world No.4 bullion producer Gold Fields, who died just over a week ago in a fire at the company's operations west of Johannesburg.
Mining fatalities are on the rise again despite a government safety drive introduced last year which resulted in a surge in mine closures, known as "Section 54s", for violations.
"The number of fatalities is rising again after the industry recorded the lowest (number of) deaths ever during April 2012," Oliphant said. "This is a serious regression and a quantum leap in commitment is needed to stem the tide of fatalities and to make our mines safer and healthier.
"The current situation we find ourselves in, justifies us to intensify the use of Section 54," he warned.
Oliphant said 63 miners had been killed so far this year in South Africa's mines, the world's deepest and among its most dangerous. At that rate close to 120 could die this year compared to 123 in 2011.
Analysts and the industry have said mine output has been curbed by the government's campaign especially in the platinum sector, a situation that has global market implications since the country is the largest producer of the precious metal used for catalytic converters in automobiles.
Oliphant, however, dismissed these claims.
"We want to state categorically that it is mischievous to regard section 54 as the contributor to the loss of production," said Oliphant.
Mine deaths have plunged since the end of apartheid rule in 1994. (Additional reporting by Sherilee Lakmidas; Editing by Mike Nesbit)