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AM Italia workers strike, two blast furnaces on hot idle after mishap

London — Workers at ArcelorMittal Italia started full strike action in the early hours of Thursday for an indefinite period, on grounds of safety, and are taking action to bank the Taranto works' blast furnaces Nos. 2 and 4, union sources said Thursday morning.

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This action followed an accident late Wednesday when a crane being operated by a worker at the Taranto works' raw materials pier fell into the sea. ArcelorMittal Italia confirmed Thursday morning that a worker who was operating the crane was still missing but they declined to comment on production.

"Following the tragic accident that occurred last night at the pier in concession to ArcelorMittal Italia in the port of Taranto, when the DM5 crane fell into the sea, ArcelorMittal Italia can confirm that our colleague who was operating the crane is still missing," the company said in an emailed statement.

"In line with normal procedure after an accident of this nature, the Taranto Public Prosecutor's Office seized the area and the machines. We are working with the authorities and rescuers and we are in contact with family and colleagues, to whom we are providing all possible support. Investigations to determine the exact cause of the crane's fall are ongoing."

Union sources including those from Fiom-Cgil, the main metalworkers' union at the Taranto works, said the two blast furnaces have been put in standby mode, being kept warm but not producing hot metal. Each furnace recently had been operating with a target production capacity of 1.5 million mt/year. The cold-rolling portion of the mill has also been put on stand-by, sources told S&P Global Platts.

According to a reliable union source, only BF No. 1 was working without any problem at the Taranto works as of Thursday afternoon. It has been working with a crude steel production target of 1.2 million mt/year.

The Taranto works is Italy's biggest flat steel products producer. The latest development occurred on the heels of an Italian public prosecutor on Tuesday ordering a production halt at ArcelorMittal Italia's blast furnace No. 2 following allegations that improvements promised for the works after a previous accident there in 2015 -- when the mill was under previous management -- had not been fully undertaken. ArcelorMittal said Tuesday that it was working with the relevant authorities towards an acceptable solution that would ensure the blast furnace could remain operational, avoiding the risk of disruption.

"We are demanding clarity that this mill is safe, as well as we want to understand AM plans regarding production, but we are also demanding clarity from the government about the [Crescita] decree and to understand AM's plans," said a union source following a meeting with management.

As previously reported, ArcelorMittal entered a dispute with the Italian unions after announcing 1,400 temporary layoffs following the decision to target 5 million mt/year crude steel production for this year rather than 6 million mt.

ArcelorMittal also engaged with the Italian government about the so-called Crescita law decree, under which the government wishes to cancel the steelmaker's criminal immunity regarding pollution remedies adopted at the site. ArcelorMittal has already said that this new decree "will make it impossible for the company to continue to operate," with some company representatives hinting that the company could now pull out from new investments if tensions continue with the government.

-- Annalisa Villa, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Tom Balcerek, newsdesk@spglobal.com