MAC: Mines and Communities

UN team investigates Solomon Island gold mine after disaster

Published by MAC on 2014-04-27
Source: Radio Australia, Relief Web, SIBC, ABC News (2014-04-27)

... as ex-pat workers are banned

UN sends team to Solomon Islands to investigate stability of Australia-owned gold mine

Radio Australia

25 April 2014

The United Nations has sent a team of specialists to assess the stability of a tailings dam at an Australian-owned gold mine in Solomon Islands.

Audio: St Barbara mine staff barred from entering Solomons (ABC News)

The Australian company St Barbara shut down its Gold Ridge mine near the capital, Honiara, three weeks ago after the flash floods that killed 21 people and left 50,000 others homeless.

The Solomon Islands Government is worried the tailings dam may fail and endanger the lives of 8,000 people living nearby.

Emilia Wahlstrom from UN's Disaster Assessment and Coordination team, says the tailings dam could contain toxic materials like cyanide.

"The United Nations is here at the request of the government of the Solomon Islands to conduct an independent assessment of the current situation at the tailings dam," Ms Wahlstrom told Pacific Beat.

"(The government) is worried about the consequences of a potential dam breach or just a release of the water of the tailing storage facility into the downstream river and the effect that could have on the communities living downstream," she said.

"Both in terms of the immediate effects and of course then the long term effects of their livelihood and agriculture."

Ms Wahlstrom says there are concerns regarding the integrity of the dam after the floods and the magnitude 8.3 earthquake which hit the country earlier this month.

She says the government wants assistance with assessing the integrity of the dam and also wants to conduct some sampling and analysis.

"Part of our assessment is to see what are the amounts stored there and what's the current composition of the water and what would be the potential effects if something happened," she said.

Meanwhile, the Solomon Islands' Government has barred employees of the mine from entering the country to return to work.

Dr Phil Tagini, the special secretary to the prime minister, says several issues surrounding the mine need to be addressed before any moves are made to reopen it.

"As an operation, we want the mine up and running," he said.

"But first it's an opportunity to start thinking about the long-term issues that continue to affect the mine in terms of its profitability... Miners relationships with various stakeholders along the river in terms of affected communities who at the moment have seen themselves to be sidelined."

Earlier the government requested the Australian Federal Police to be deployed at the mining site to maintain security.

The move came after mine owners, St Barbara, suspended operations following the floods in early April.

The Gold Ridge mine recorded 500 millimetres of rainfall in just 24 hours during the floods.

The ABC has contacted St Barbara but no one has been available for comment.


Goldmine workers banned from Solomon Islands

ABC News.net

26 April 2014

Audio: Solomon Islands Government bars Gold Ridge mining staff (ABC News)

Australian mining company St Barbara says it doesn't know why the Solomon Islands Government has banned its employees from re-entering the country.

St Barbara shut down its Gold Ridge mine three weeks ago during the flash floods that killed 21 people and left 50-thousand others homeless.

The Government's Communication Unit says the restriction has been enforced to allow a joint agencies investigation by the Labour Division, Immigration, Police, Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Environment into safety and security at the mine site.

The special secretary to the Prime Minister, Dr Phil Tagini, has confirmed to Pacific Beat that the Immigration Department has prevented employees of St Barbara from re-entering the country.

He says there is significant concern in the general community and especially downstream and along the neighbouring Matepona River about the way in which St Barbara evacuated the mine after the flash floods of early May.

"In terms of how St Barbara left the mine without informing the relevant departments, the police, the land-owning communities, the Environment Department and all that and so they felt that that was not totally appropriate and to a certain extent was not responsible," Dr Tagini said.

"But we have now got approval by Cabinet for an interim working group to be set up comprising of all those who have an interest in the mine and that will provide the framework for discussing all the issues that all the different parties have including the mining company."

It's understood the ban relates to 44 expatriate workers who are mostly managers and executive officers.

St Barbara asks for Government clarification about staff ban

In a statement, St Barbara said it hadn't been told why its employees had been barred from re-entering the country.

It said it had sent the government a site stabilisation plan and its experts were ready to implement it.

And in a statement to the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, St Barbara said it had not abandoned Gold Ridge and, subject to the provision of necessary Solomon Islands Government support, it was planning to return and operate the mine.

St Barbara said it did not understand why the Immigration Division had banned the senior managers and the company had sought clarification from the Government.

In previous statements, St Barbara has explained that it received 1000mm of rain in four days resulting in floods that cut the mine's access road in many places and caused substantial damage to the approaches to the Tinahulu Bridge.

This meant Gold Ridge could not receive diesel fuel or other essential supplies and a decision was made to evacuate the mine on April 7.

Gold Ridge director, Tim Lehany, said all reasonable steps were taken to secure equipment and hazardous material on site before the employees left.

A team of United Nations specialists has arrived at the mine after the Solomon Islands Government asked for help to assess the stability of Gold Ridge's tailings dam amid fears it could fail and endanger the lives of 8,000 people living nearby.

It will look such issues as chemical wastes, cyanide, explosive hazards and other threats to the environment and human security.


44 Expat St. Barbara Workers Banned from Solomons

Solomon Islands Broadcasting Company

25 April 2014

The Solomon Islands Government has banned 44 expatriate workers of St. Barbara mining company which operated the Gold Ridge Mine from re-entering the country.

The Director of Immigration enforced the restriction on the workers who are mostly managers and executive officers of the company on April 18.

The Government's Communication Unit reports, the restriction is enforced to allow joint agencies investigation by the Labour Division, Immigration, Police, Ministry of Mines and Energy and the Ministry of Environment into the safety and security at the mine site with regards to chemical wastes, cyanide, explosive hazards and other threats to the environment and human security.

It says the restriction remained enforced unless the Director of Immigration revokes the notice.

The Government's media department says, all airlines have been informed of the restriction not to airlift any of the listed foreign managers and executive officers on all incoming flights to Solomon Islands.

However, in a separate article to SIBC news today, St. Barbara reiterates, it does not abandon Gold Ridge, and subject to the provision of necessary Solomon Islands Government support, is planning to return and operate the mine.

The company does not understand why the Immigration Division bans a number of their senior managers and has sought clarification from the Government


UNDAC team assessing mine tailings dam in the Solomon Islands

http://reliefweb.int/report/solomon-islands/undac-team-assessing-mine-tailings-dam-solomon-islands

23 April 2014

Honiara: A three-person United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has arrived in the Solomon Islands to assess a gold mine tailings storage facility following flash floods and heavy rains in the region.

There are concerns rising water levels in the dam, located about 30 kilometres from the capital Honiara, may have weakened, potentially placing around 8,000 people in nearby villages at risk. In addition, the site contains chemicals common to gold mining facilities.

"We are here to support the Government by conducting an independent assessment of the stability of the dam and by taking samples for chemical analysis," said Ms. Emilia Wahlstrom, UNDAC team leader. "There are a number of concerns at the site and for the thousands of people who live in neighbouring communities."

On 14 April, Dr. Melchoir Mataki, Chair of the National Disaster Council and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology (MECDM), sent an official request to the UN Resident Coordinator in Fiji to provide technical expertise and support to the Government.

Following the request, the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit and the European Union Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) assembled a team of independent experts to assess the potential dangers of the tailings dam weakening, potentially resulting in a toxic spill of hazardous chemicals from the gold extraction processes, such as cyanide and arsenic.

Two technical experts from the UN and the Netherlands arrived in Honiara on Monday 21 April and a dam integrity expert from Sweden joined the team today. The first joint field trip to the tailings dam is on Thursday 24 April and will include experts from the Environment and Conservation Division of MECDM, an independent Environmental Adviser of the downstream communities, as well as representatives from OCHA's Regional Office for the Pacific.

The team is supported by the European Commission Community Mechanism for Civil Protection and will remain in the Solomon Islands for two weeks to conduct assessments and prepare a report for the Government.

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