18 Jan 2011

Efforts to stabilise Pike River mine to continue

6:02 am on 18 January 2011

Receivers for the Pike River Coal mine are to make further attempts to stabilise its atmosphere, but are not committing themselves to recovering the remains of the 29 workers inside.

Last Thursday, police announced they were abandoning efforts to retrieve the bodies of the men trapped inside the West Coast mine following a series of explosions on 19 November last year.

Pike River Coal Ltd went into receivership on 13 December. The Government gave the receivers from PricewaterhouseCoopers until 5pm on Monday to deliver a report outlining their plans.

The receivers made their decision public following a meeting with the men's families in Greymouth on Monday night.

They had earlier signalled they would prefer to temporarily seal the mine, but now say they will work over the next five to eight weeks to stabilise it.

They say if that can be achieved, with no evidence of the danger of further explosions, it will still take considerable analysis to determine whether the mine can be re-entered or further developed.

However, the receivers say the plan does not allow for either the recovery of the bodies, or guarantee the future of the mine.

The work will be funded by Pike River Coal and carried out under its control.

The receivers say there are a number of other matters that need to be discussed before the company resumes full control of the mine, but does not specify what these are.

In a separate statement on Monday, Police Commissioner Howard Broad says police will now work on a transfer of the mine site to the receivers. Police will continue to provide support for the families.

A Royal Commission will be held into the disaster later this year.

Families 'given new hope'

Families of the workers met at the Holy Trinity Church in Greymouth on Monday night to hear the receivers' plans for the mine. Spokesperson Bernie Monk says it has given them new hope that their loved ones might be recovered.

Mr Monk says police will continue their operations until 29 January and then he expects that the receivers will take over.

He says although the families understand the objective is to stabilise the mine, he hopes that if that occurs, then the recovery of the bodies might also happen.

Mr Monk says there had been no commitment from the receivers about this, although he is optimistic they will continue to fund and run the operation at Pike River.

Earlier, the families of the men said they were likely to try legal action to stop the site from being sealed.

A lawyer for the families, Nicholas Davidson, QC, told Summer Report he is concerned that sealing the mine would stop people getting in to collect evidence for the Royal Commission into the disaster.

Mr Davidson says the true reasons for sealing the mine have not yet been revealed, nor has evidence been discussed as a factor in the decision-making on the mine's future.

Rescuers had recovery plan - union

The head of the union representing miners says rescue teams were working toward a plan to retrieve the bodies before the police announcement that they were ending their recovery operation.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary Andrew Little says the 108-day plan to re-enter the mine was put together before Christmas at the request of police, with a view to entering the mine in March or April this year.

Mr Little says the police say their experts reviewed the plan and doubted that it would succeed.

However, he says the families have been left in the dark about what information police used to make their decision to end the recovery effort and he understands the rescue teams were happy with the progress at the mine.