14 Jan 2011

Money not reason for end to recovery effort - minister

3:49 pm on 14 January 2011

Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee says the recovery operation at the Pike River Coal mine is not being stopped for financial reasons.

Police on Thursday announced the end of their effort to recover the bodies of 29 men who died in a series of explosions at the West Coast mine starting on 19 November last year.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad said responsibility will be handed to the receivers for Pike River Coal, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Mr Brownlee says police have taken the decision because it is unsafe to enter the mine now and for the foreseeable future.

He says it is not a matter of money, but after weeks of trying to stabilise the mine, it is now up to the receivers to decide how long efforts can continue.

Mr Brownlee says it is appropriate that the receivers now "step up" and they need to decide their intentions for the mine by 5pm on Monday.

But the families of the men who died believe PricewaterhouseCoopers will be reluctant to cover the cost of any further recovery effort.

Kathy Lintott, who lost her nephew Riki Keane in the disaster, says Prime Minister John Key assured the families that the remains of their loved ones would be returned to them, whatever the cost.

Ms Lintott says the Government should pay the recovery costs if the receivers will not.

Experts disagree about mine re-entry

The police decision to end the recovery operation may stem from disagreements between the Government and the mine company's experts.

The dispute centres on a report written by experts at the Pike River coal company proposing a staged re-entry into the mine.

Police sent that report to four independent experts to review.

Police Commissioner Howard Broad says the company's responses to their questions left him with little confidence in the plan.

The vicar of a West Coast church says the families of the men who died are confused by the police announcement.

Reverend Tim Mora told Summer Report on Friday it seems that a difficult decision is being deferred.

Reverend Mora says if the Government has decided the recovery effort is too expensive and the chances of a recovery are slim, it needs to tell the families that directly.