Tuesday, October 20

Indonesia asks US miner to halt operations after accident

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TIMIKA, Indonesia: Indonesia has ordered a halt in operations at a giant US-owned mine while inspectors probe a fatal tunnel collapse, an official said yesterday, in a stoppage that could last two months.

On May 14, a tunnel caved in at Freeport-McMoRan’s gold and copper Grasberg mine in Indonesia’s easternmost Papua province, killing 28 of 38 workers undergoing safety training.

The company shut down all operational activities at the mine for two weeks following the accident, but on Tuesday resumed some milling and open-pit activities.

Indonesia’s chief mine inspector Syawaluddin Lubis said yesterday that the energy and resources ministry had sent a letter to Freeport earlier this week instructing them to carry out only administrative and maintenance work.

“An independent investigation team arrived at the site Friday, so all operational activities at the mine should stop until the team makes safety recommendations,” Lubis told AFP.

“They can continue with general management and office work, but actual mining activities should stop across Grasberg”, Lubis added.

The US miner suffered another blow Friday when a maintenance worker in a truck underground was engulfed in a tide of muddy ore materials pouring from a container. He died in hospital on Saturday.

The company said the two incidents were unrelated.

Freeport’s Indonesian subsidiary said that it was currently only carrying out ‘ramp-up’ activities at the open-pit mine.

“We have responded (to the ministry) with a letter explaining the activities undertaken so far and requesting approval for the resumption of operations,” Freeport Indonesia spokeswoman Daisy Primayanti said.

Primayanti said the ministry had informed the company the probe could take two months. Lubis said the case could take even longer if the investigation proved to be complex.

Freeport has also said it will conduct its own probe.

Primayanti could not say how a halt would affect stockpiles, adding the impact would be assessed today.

In 2011, a three-month workers’ strike crippled production at Grasberg, with the company declaring force majeure after a month to avoid liabilities as it failed to make good on all its orders. — AFP