MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Major disaster kills workers at Lihir mine

Published by MAC on 2005-10-14


Major disaster kills workers at Lihir mine

Two Papua New Guinean workers last week lost their lives in a "landslide" at the Lihir gold mine. Although a spokesman for the company claimed it was "a natural disaster", the evidence suggests it was anything but. As pointed out in Lihir Gold's own environmental impact assessment, thirteen years ago, Lihir island is seismically unstable - having registered several earthquakes up to 7.5 on the Richter scale since the early 1900s.

Ironically, the choice of submarine tailings disposal - itself widely condemned over the past decade - was justified as essential, precisely because of such vulnerability and the paucity of land for storage and human settlement.

Rio Tinto, the operator of the mine until last month, must be held responsible for this recent disaster - one which, according to the investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston, was fore-shadowed in October 2004. Equally important to remember is that Rio Tinto was jointly responsible (albeit as a junior partner) with Freeport McMoran, when a similar, though far bigger, landslide took the lives of eight Papuan workers at the West Papuan Grasberg mine, just one year before that.

There has been virtually no press coverage of this unacceptablee "incident" outside of Australasia. Even (perhaps especially) there, it is investors in the Lihir mine whose views have been making the running, rather than the avoidable loss of two peoples' lives.

They were only Papuans after all...

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