Key: Govt willing to pay cost of Pike River miner recovery

By Jarrod Booker

Prime minister John Key and Pike River Coal CEO Peter Whittall. Photo / Simon Baker
Prime minister John Key and Pike River Coal CEO Peter Whittall. Photo / Simon Baker

Prime Minister John Key says the Government is willing to pay for an operation to recover the remains of 29 miners from the Pike River mine if it is credible and safe.

But some critics say the new owner of the mine, rather than taxpayers, should pay for the recovery, and a prospective buyer agrees.

All parties involved with the mine disaster that killed the miners last November have agreed to stabilisation of the mine starting next week, before a study is done to determine the best way to get in to try to recover the remains.

"We've never been presented with a proposal that's been credible in terms of safety," Mr Key said. "There's a lot of theories about what's possible and what's not in Pike River."

The question is who will pay the multimillion-dollar cost of a recovery operation to be carried out by staff from the New Zealand Mines Rescue service.

The study alone is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The receivers for Pike River Coal are planning to sell the mine, and say they do not have the time or resources to support a recovery of remains.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said he would like to see the next owner of the mine pay for the recovery.

"A condition of sale could easily be that bodies are recovered. When there's $6 billion to $10 billion worth of coal there to be mined, it's a small price to pay," he said.

State-owned mining company Solid Energy is seeking to buy the mine, and has said it is "committed to recovering the bodies of the 29 miners, if possible".

A Solid Energy spokeswoman said that meant paying for any recovery mission.

"If you're the owner, you have the responsibility," she said.

Mr Key said he had asked his officials to get a full briefing on safety in the mine, because the safety of recovery teams was paramount.

"I'm not ruling out putting in money. I've always said it's not an issue of money. If there's a credible proposal that is safe and we think there's a high degree of probability it will proceed, then the Government is quite happy to look into it.

"All of us have enormous sympathy for the families, but we also know we lost 29 people in that mine and we can't afford to lose any more."

The full costs of a feasibility study and recovery operation were still unknown.

Labour leader Phil Goff said he was sure the New Zealand public would be willing to help in returning the remains of the men to their families.

"The company should be the first source of the money but the Government should be the backstop there. In fact, John Key promised that; I'd expect him to honour the promise."

The initial stabilisation plan at the mine would involve building a temporary seal 100m from the entrance of the mine, after which a permanent double seal would be installed to prevent oxygen getting inside and causing another explosion. The preferred recovery method would involve tunnelling 180m around a 50m rockfall to the main area of the mine, where the men's remains are trapped.

PricewaterhouseCoopers co-receiver Malcolm Hollis said the receivers had agreed only to look into the feasibility of a recovery operation. It was possible the bodies might not be recovered.

- NZ Herald

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