Pike River inquiry critical to Coast's future - mayor

The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine where 29 workers are trapped inside after an explosion in November 2010.  Photo / Simon Baker
The entrance to the Pike River Coal mine where 29 workers are trapped inside after an explosion in November 2010. Photo / Simon Baker

The future of West Coast mining depends on the outcome of the Royal Commission into the Pike River mine disaster, the Grey District Mayor says.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry into a deadly explosion at the mine which claimed the lives of 29 men in November last year starts today in Greymouth with a preliminary hearing.

It will investigate what caused the explosions at the mine as well as the search and rescue operation carried out in the wake of the explosion.

Mayor Tony Kokshoorn is confident the inquiry will get to the bottom of what happened.

"And this is why the government has put a Royal Commission of Inquiry in place and that is there so they can leave no stone unturned and come up with answers," he told Newstalk ZB.

"At the end of the day at stake are future miners' lives down those mines."

Mr Kokshoorn says numerous lawyers have been working on the case.

"I think they will get to the bottom of this and they have to get to the bottom of this, we've got thousands of miners in the future working down those pits."

Mr Kokshoorn has no doubt coal will come out of the Pike River mine in the future.

Pike River families spokesman Bernie Monk echoed that sentiment this morning.

"The only thing that annoys me about it is I think the receivers owed it to the West Coast and our families to get down there and find out exactly what happened," he says.

Mr Monk says today's preliminary hearing will get the ball rolling on what will be a long process.

He says the family's legal team will start from square one and will cover the set up, design, ventilation and all other aspects of the mine.

"We've interviewed over 100 people ourselves, our legal team, and we've come up with a lot of stuff that we're going to be bringing up at this hearing."

Families are looking forward to finding out the truth of what happened down the mine, Mr Monk says.

But he says if receivers had found a way to enter the mine, they would have the facts about what happened.

"A lot of it's going to be done on expertise of people that know mining now and a wee bit of guesswork. It won't be all guesswork but to get into the mine is the most important thing."

Meanwhile Mr Monk says receivers are being very uncooperative towards the families.

"The only thing they're interested in is selling the mine. They are paying very little attention to our people down there. It's all recovery of the mine but they never mentioned getting our guys out."

The commission says it intends to hold 15 weeks of hearings from May 6 to November 4. They will be organised into four phases - context, search and rescue, what happened at Pike River and policy aspects.

The first phase will examine New Zealand's regulatory environment and geography, the second will explore the search and rescue operation at the mine, and the cause of the deaths.

Phase three will look at the cause of the explosions and Pike River Coal's operational and management practices, while phase four will focus on the policies which govern mining.

- Newstalk ZB

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