The Gupta-owned Gloria coal mine. PHOTO: ANA Reporter
MIDDELBURG - Thirteen more bodies have been brought to the surface at Gloria mine, Mpumalanga police confirmed on Friday. 

This brings the number of retrieved bodies to 18. 

Mpumalanga police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi confirmed the number but said the rescue team has since had to halt their operation. 

"They couldn’t continue due to severe smoke which prohibited them and apparently they will go down again on Monday, 25 February 2019. 

"The total number of bodies retrieved is now 18."

Hlathi did not immediately say what the cause of the smoke was, but referred further enquiries to the mine’s management. Gloria coal mine’s business rescue practitioners’ representative, Mike Elliot, said they would issue a statement with full details later on Friday.

The 13 retrieved bodies are those of some of about 20 people who were trapped at Gloria coal mine’s underground area about three weeks ago, when an explosion occurred while they were allegedly stealing cables. 

The rescue and recovery operations started immediately after the explosion and saw the bodies of five men retrieved from underground. A sixth man was brought to the surface alive and taken to the hospital for treatment, where he was later discharged. 

The rescue and retrieval operations were subsequently marred by, among other things, the rising level of methane gas that made the conditions underground unsafe. This prompted the sporadic stoppages of the operations for safety reasons.

The Gloria mine is believed to be part of the Optimum Coal assets which were owned by the controversial Gupta family. The Gupta mine assets were put into business rescue last year. 

The mine has been closed since September after hundreds of miners were not been paid their salaries. Since then, the mine has struggled with an increase in cable theft.

Additional reporting by ANA