* Fire started after rock fall on Tuesday
* Eight miners rescued unharmed
* Harmony shares fall 3 percent
(Adds analyst comment and share price drop)
By Ed Cropley
JOHANNESBURG, Feb 6 Rescuers recovered eight
bodies and continued to search for another missing worker on
Thursday after a fire and rock-fall at a Harmony Gold
mine near Johannesburg, the worst accident in South Africa's
mines in nearly five years.
Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu ordered an
investigation into the incident at the Doornkop mine, 30 km west
(20 miles) of the city, after initial reports that the fire was
triggered by a small earthquake on Tuesday evening.
"The situation is deeply regrettable," Shabangu said in a
statement. "We must ensure that we do all we can to get to the
bottom of what caused this incident in order to prevent similar
occurrences in future."
It is the most serious accident in South Africa's mines
since nine workers died in a rock fall at a platinum mine in
July 2009. Shares in Harmony, South Africa's third-largest
bullion producer, fell 3 percent at the start of trade.
Rescue teams battled through smoke and debris nearly a mile
underground on Wednesday to reach eight other miners who had
managed to flee to a refuge bay equipped with a telephone and
other survival gear. They were brought to the surface unharmed.
South Africa's gold mines are the deepest in the world and
were ranked as some of the most dangerous during the apartheid
Since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, the
government, unions and companies have worked to improve safety,
but 112 people were still killed in 2012, the last year for
which records are available.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Harmony said the
fire broke out on Tuesday evening after an earthquake damaged
ventilation and water pipes as well as power cables.
However, NUM questioned safety standards at the mine, saying
the rescued miners reported that the ventilation system in one
of the refuge chambers was letting in fumes.
"It does tell us that the rescue chambers were not according
to safety standards," NUM Secretary General Frans Baleni told
Reuters. "We cannot just say that it is regrettable. Heads most
roll should the investigation find that there was negligence."
A Harmony spokeswoman said it was possible the refuge bays
might have been compromised either in the earthquake or the fire
that followed. An investigation by government, union, and the
company's officials was already underway, she said.
Operations have been halted at the mine, which produces
nearly 10 percent of Harmony's gold, and a prolonged safety
shutdown could hit the company hard.
Harmony posted a quarterly loss last week due to a subdued
bullion price and production problems at its key Khusalethu
"Doornkop is a growth shaft for Harmony and any loss of
production at the moment is not positive," SBG Securities mining
analyst David Davis said.
(Additional reporting and writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura;
Editing by Ed Cropley and Jon Boyle)