9 Jul 2021

Pike River families protest mine recovery project closure before police investigation concludes

4:15 pm on 9 July 2021

A number of Pike River families and supporters have begun protesting at the site of the mine this morning against the government's decision to close the recovery project.

Bernie Monk at Pike River Portal. Credit: Pike River Recovery Agency

Bernie Monk's son was one of the 29 mineworkers killed. (File photo). Photo: Pike River Recovery Agency

The government announced in March there would be no more money to expand the project after the Recovery Agency reached the furthest point for the drift recovery efforts last month.

But the group representing 22 families of Pike River victims are refusing to accept the decision.

This morning, more than two dozen people showed up at the site of the disaster to begin a protest, which they have warned, will continue for "as long as it takes."

It is currently planned the mine will be fully sealed and handed over to the Department of Conservation by the end of August.

However, police will continue their investigation into the causes of the disaster.

"It's just ridiculous what they're doing," said the group's spokesperson, Bernie Monk, whose son was one of the 29 mineworkers killed.

"If the police in their drilling operations find things of significance that need to be investigated, how the hell are they going to investigate them when they've sealed the mine up?"

The Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry, Andrew Little, said safety would always be the government's bottom line.

"A core part of the remaining work of the Pike River Recovery Agency is to support the police investigation.

"Anything that impedes that work could obstruct the police investigation."

"I am advised the agency is prioritising the work programme to ensure operations continue safely."

Police said they were aware of the families, and have been in contact to ensure everyone's safety.

"New Zealand Police is aware of activity at Pike River Mine this morning with some family members and supporters gathering at the mine entrance," Tasman district commander Mike Johnson said.

But Monk told Midday Report they were not obstructing the police in their investigation.

"We will not interfere with the police's work or what they're doing. We want them to do the job that they're doing."

Johnson said he acknowledged "the comments from the group that they do not intend to delay or interfere with the police investigation or the current borehole drilling programme in any way".

Monk said their group had been excluded from discussions around the future of the mine.

"Our original group that have always handled Pike River have been left out of the negotiations.

"We haven't been told what's going on, and we want the mine left unsealed until after the police investigation."

In April, Little defended the decision to close the mine, saying the government's commitments had been met.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs