Management at NZ death mine slammed

2012-11-05 10:00


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Wellington - Managers at a New Zealand colliery where 29 men died in a gas explosion ignored numerous danger signs in a rush to ramp up production, an official inquiry into the mine disaster found on Monday.

A royal commission into the blast at the Pike River colliery on 19 November 2010, also criticised regulators for failing to pick up on lax safety practices which contributed to the country's worst mining disaster in almost a century.

The commission, the most powerful inquiry available under New Zealand law, said the South Island mine should not have been operating when the blast occurred because of consistently high methane levels inside.

"There were numerous warnings of a potential catastrophe at Pike River... In the last 48 days before the explosion there were 21 reports of methane levels reaching explosive levels," it said.

The inquiry, which has spent more than 12 months investigating the disaster, concluded: "There was a culture of production before safety at Pike River and, as a result, signs of the risk of an explosion were either not noticed or responded to."

Remains still entombed

The disaster claimed the lives of 24 New Zealanders, two Australians, two Britons and a South African.

Their remains are still entombed about 2.5km into the colliery, with recovery teams unable to reach them because of an ongoing danger from volatile gases in the mine shaft.

The families of some survivors called this week for Pike River management to face charges over the disaster, but the royal commission did not recommend criminal proceedings.

Instead it urged a major overhaul of mine safety regulations in New Zealand, saying they lagged behind comparable countries.

Mining stopped at Pike River following the explosion and the Pike River Coal company went into receivership soon afterwards.

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