Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is a journalist based in Auckland.

Families confident new Pike River owners will try body recovery

File photo / Iain McGregor / The Press
File photo / Iain McGregor / The Press

Families of the 29 men killed in the Pike River mine disaster are confident the company's new owners will "have a crack" at recovering their bodies.

State-owned mining company Solid Energy today finalised its purchase of Pike River Coal Ltd, which was put into receivership following the November 2010 blasts.

Receivers PricewaterhouseCoopers today confirmed the $5 million balance of the $7.5m purchase price had been received.

The sale comes after Solid Energy completed due diligence on the assets in May and agreed to a full but conditional sale.

The news has been well-received by families of the 29 miners killed in the blast, who see it as the next step towards recovering their bodies.

Solid Energy has told families it can see no way to safely carry out standalone body recovery operation, but a recovery could be attempted as part of a wider commercial mining operation.

Families spokesman Bernie Monk said it was important they were finally dealing with a company one-on-one - a situation they had not had since the explosions.

"The Government left us, the police left us, we had a receiver that was basically only there for a commercial venture to clip the ticket and leave," he said.

"That's what we've had to put up with up until now."

Mr Monk said risk assessments had been completed and he was confident a recovery operation could happen under Solid Energy's ownership.

He was buoyed by recent borehole pictures which showed little damage down the mine drift.

"I'm quite confident that Solid Energy will have a crack at going down that drift and find out just how bad this mine is before they shut shop and walk away from us and think that they can't do anything commercially with the mine."

Solid Energy had been up-front and kept families in the loop with developments, which also gave him confidence.

PricewaterhouseCoopers partner John Fisk said settlement of the sale was a significant step towards completing the receivership.

"We are pleased that all conditions relating to the sale have now been met, and responsibility for the mine and related assets has been transferred to Solid Energy," he said.

"The Pike River disaster has been a national tragedy and this has been a most challenging receivership."

Mr Fisk said a number of matters still needed to be addressed before it retired from the receivership. It would report to creditors on the expected final outcome in the near future.

Solid Energy has now assumed control of the Pike River facilities, including the main site near Atarau and a stockpile and rail loading facility at Ikamatua.

It said seven people employed by the receiver had accepted roles with the company at the Pike River site.

The sale conditions included the successful transfer of mining permits and land access agreements; a contribution to police costs in dealing with the explosion; and an agreement with the Government over who was responsible for recovering the dead miners' remains.

Solid Energy said it would likely be several years at least before it would be in a position to say if it had a safe, technically feasible and commercially viable mining plan.

It will now secure the site, plan an exploration of the mine's main entry drift and work towards improving its knowledge of the resources.

- APNZ

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