x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Chile's trapped miners step out of the darkness and into the limelight

Following their "must-see-TV" rescue watched by an estimated one billion people, the miners received an avalanche of invitations to all-expenses-paid holidays, football matches in England and Spain, and requests for paid interviews on international news programmes.

Having lived 700 metres underground for 69 days, the 33 men rescued from a Chilean copper mine are on something of a world tour. Following their "must-see-TV" rescue watched by an estimated one billion people, the miners received an avalanche of invitations to all-expenses-paid holidays, football matches in England and Spain, and requests for paid interviews on international news programmes.

They had hardly dusted themselves off before Edison Pena, the miner known as "the runner" for his daily routine of jogging in the San Esteban mine, was taking part in the New York City Marathon and impersonating Elvis on the Late Show with David Letterman. Others went to Shanghai to visit the crane company that lifted the men to the surface. Still others appeared on CNN's Heroes special.

In spite of all this attention, the miners have stayed relatively silent about details of the first 17 days during which they were trapped without contact with the outside world. They are holding out for a major book or movie deal. Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B, is said to be interested in the film rights.

According to reports, however, some of the miners are struggling with psychological issues. Others are worried about their futures if the big contract does not come through. Local media sources claim that the Chilean government offered the 33 men jobs with Codelco, the state-run mining company. The government is also said to be arranging legal advice to help the men get their fair share of earnings from any film and book deals or appearances.

One would be hard-pressed to find anyone who begrudges the miners their change of fortune. They did, after all, provide the world with the feel-good story of the year. Chile and its government certainly benefited from their time in the limelight. In the short term, the nation saw its brand image rise 19 places in a study of 110 countries by FutureBrand, a firm that has helped develop the national brands of countries such as Mexico, Australia and Qatar, and conducted surveys in 13 countries for the study, including the UAE.

"It was our biggest riser this year," said Victoria Berry, a strategist for FutureBrand based in New York. "We attributed that to the miner rescue… The way that Chile handled the crisis, that created huge amounts of goodwill for the President and the country." Indeed, President Sebastián Piñera, who was there to greet each man as he emerged, saw his popularity skyrocket. The mining minister Laurence Golborne, who was a constant presence during the ordeal, has also been touted as a candidate in the next presidential elections.

Yet it is hopeful that the lasting legacy of the rescue will be an improvement in conditions for miners. The government has pledged to review safety standards in the workplace and ratify International Labor Organisation Convention 176, which gives mineworkers a voice on safety issues.

This year has seen its share of mining accidents, after all. In November, 29 miners lost their lives in a New Zealand coal mine following a series of explosions. In October in China, days after the last of the 33 miners in Chile were rescued, at least 26 were killed in a mine explosion. The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions estimates 12,000 miners die on the job every year. In Chile, 31 miners had died as of August this year, according to a report released by Sernageomin, the government's mining oversight agency.

Late last month Christoph Halm, from the German production company Information & Unterhaltung, flew to Santiago to bring one of the 33 men, Mario Sepuvelda, to Cologne for a television appearance. He wouldn't say how much the family was offered, but Mr Sepuvelda appeared for sevenminutes on the company's end-of-year special. Halm said that Sepuvelda told him he would continue travelling for some time. "He's pretty busy right now," Halm said.

"It appears that [Sepuvelda] didn't really change," he added. "He wants to help the victims of this year's earthquake and repeats telling the people, that he is a miner, nothing less, nothing more."