Eleven gold miners have been rescued from an accident that left them trapped in an abandoned mine near the town of Benoni – but the operation to rescue the rest was stopped over night as they were refusing to surface.

Emergency service officials say they will not restart the rescue mission unless the miners request it.

Speaking to the BBC, Werner Vermaak of the South African private medical company ER24 said: “They will be offered rescue should they decide to come out, but they will be arrested should they come to the surface again.” He also said that without ladders and ropes, the miners will be unable to escape the mine.

Rescuers do not know how many miners are trapped underground – there are some reports that there are 200 but the number could not be confirmed because the miners stopped speaking with authorities when they learnt they might be arrested.

The 20 miners trapped near the surface are not in immediate danger and have been given food and water.

South Africa has some of the world’s deepest gold mines and the majority of mining deaths occur in illegal operations.

Image credit: Getty