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Vol. 75/No. 21      May 30, 2011

Production push spurred
New Zealand mine disaster
BLACKBALL, New Zealand—“The main object is to get our guys out of the mine,” said Bernie Monk at an April 30 May Day ceremony to open a memorial here to 29 miners killed and still entombed at the Pike River Coal Mine.

Monk is the spokesperson for families of the miners, who died in a series of deadly explosions starting last November 19 as the company was ratcheting up production to fill back orders for highly paid coking coal. Monk’s son Michael was one of those killed.

A number of family members were among the 90 people in attendance, along with representatives of the miners’ union, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU). The memorial, a wooden wheel once used in mining, displays ceramic name plaques of the 29 alongside five other miners killed since 1990. It was made with collaboration from miners’ families and local potters.

Police announced April 27 that video footage in the mine taken in February shows what may be the intact body of a miner and an opened box of rescue equipment, indicating that not all may have died in the first blast.

Receivers in charge of the mine insist that conditions underground remain too gassy to allow entry to recover the bodies.

The power assumed by the New Zealand Police in the post-explosion response sits badly with many—especially their opposition to the entry into the mine by rescue teams in the “window” immediately following the explosion. “The police have a lot to answer for,” rescue team member Dan, who works in a gold mine in Reefton near Pike River, told the Militant April 30. “Who gave them the power to decide when the team could go down?”

Meanwhile, an audit of New Zealand coal mines ordered after the Pike River explosions found two mines in violation of safety regulations. Another West Coast mine—Spring Creek, the country’s largest underground coal operation—has just reopened after six months’ shutdown following initial safety inspections, said Trevor Bolderson, the EPMU site convener at the mine.
Related articles:
Black lung disease on rise among coal miners  
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