- Date published:
10:53 am, May 3rd, 2019 - 51 comments
Categories: Andrew Little, disaster, health and safety, labour, Mining, Unions, workers' rights - Tags: #standwithpike, pike, pike river, pike river mine, Remembering the Pike River miners
For very understandable reasons, concerns that a safe re-entry cannot be guaranteed, re-entry of the Pike River mine has been delayed.
And this decision has the backing of the Pike River families.
Television New Zealand has the details:
The Government, Agency and families involved in the Pike River Mine re-entry are all on the same page concerning the ‘safety first’ message which halted today’s re-entry.
Pike River Recovery Agency is standing by its decision to stall the mine re-entry, saying a process of elimination must be followed to ensure safety.
A three-man search team was due to enter the drift today, however a safety issue means work to re-open the site has been stalled and entry will have to be delayed.
Unexpected and unexplained oxygen readings were reported by the atmospheric monitoring systems in the Pike River Mine on Wednesday.
Dinghy Pattinson, who was to lead the expedition, told TVNZ 1’s Breakfast that over the next few days, a process of elimination will be followed
“Anybody that enters that mine has to know it’s a safe environment, that’s why we did what we did yesterday,” he said.
Andrew Little is in agreement:
[T]he Minister Responsible for Pike River re-entry, Andrew Little said it was the right decision.
He told Breakfast that he had said from the outset that safety had to come first.
Better monitoring systems have now enabled a safer entry process and while is has been a disappointing outcome for many today, Mr Little said the families affected were “totally understanding.”
“We met with a lot of the families last night and they are in remarkably good spirits, they totally understand and accept what has happened,” he said.
“Today is an opportunity to go back up to the mine site and for those families to see what has happened, the gear that is on site and get a bit of a technical briefing about what has happened to date and what has happened in the last 24 hours and what the prognosis might look like,” Mr Little said.
Reporter Jane McFie, who wrote a book on the event, intends to be there when the mine is re-entered.
This background is from Radio New Zealand:
Journalist Rebecca Macfie wrote the book on the subject – Tragedy at Pike River Mine: How and Why 29 Men Died. When the slab of concrete guarding the mine entrance is pulled away, she will be there.
She remembers hearing the breaking news about the Greymouth explosion on 19 November, 2010.
“I guess very early on I came to the view – which was somewhat instinctive for me really – that this was not an accident,” she said.
“Early on I started seeing little hints in the company documents that this was a really high-risk operation that had gone badly. It had suffered endless delays, it seemed to be constantly under-capitalised. It had a series of things in the design and development that had gone wrong, constantly under-delivering and over-promising. And I basically followed my nose with that.”
Macfie spent hours sitting in on the Royal Commission in 2011 which followed those same sorts of lines of inquiry into the root causes of the calamity.
She said even for “an old journo like me”, the eventual re-opening day would be an emotional one.
“It’s just been such an extraordinary story, right from the beginning,” she said.
And she highlights why re-entry is so important.
Since the explosion there has been a series of extraordinary events.
Pike River Coal went broke three weeks later so it could not pay its substantial debts, or its fines when it was prosecuted. There was an attempt to prosecute mine manager Peter Whittall, but all charges were dropped in a deal that was later found to be unlawful. Then Solid Energy, which had purchased the mine, tried to permanently seal the entrance after it said re-entry could not be done safely. A picket by families was successful is stopping the work. Then Solid Energy itself went broke.
Macfie said this has been the worst industrial disaster in New Zealand for almost a century – and a totally avoidable catastrophe. “There has been no accountability. And that’s why it’s continued to be a weeping sore.”
She said this re-entry was not only about recovering human remains, but about recovering forensic evidence as to the cause of the explosion.
“We know it was a methane blast, but where did the spark come from – what was the fuse that blew the thing?”
The mine tunnel entrance is 2.3km long, and at about 1.9 km there is a labyrinth of tunnels built in rock which contain equipment of huge interest to the police and off-shore forensic experts.
When it has been made safe, they will go in to examine that equipment for clues. But for now, the key is – when it has been made safe.
This does not stop the usual suspects from trying to politicise the delay by failing to understand the difference between delaying something and stopping something. Shame on them.
Of course all steps should be taken to re-enter the mine. So that if at all possible families can be reunited with the remains of their loved ones. And the legal system can finally work out the appropriate response to this event.