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Jakarta Post

Police to focus on negligence in deadly Big Gossan collapse

  • Nethy Dharma Somba and Amahl S. Azwar

    The Jakarta Post

Jayapura, Papua/Jakarta   /   Tue, May 28, 2013   /  10:45 am

The Papua Police are focusing on whether negligence was the cause of the fatal tunnel collapse at Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold Inc'€™s mine in Papua.

'€œIf it were caused by nature, there'€™s nothing we can do. But if there was negligence or intent, it will be a crime,'€ Papua Police spokesman Sr. Comr. I Gede Sumerta Jaya said in Jayapura, Papua, on Monday.

Police have invited a geologist from Hasanuddin University in Makassar, South Sulawesi, to assist in the investigation led by Papua Police chief of detectives Sr. Comr. Bambang Priambada.

Police have questioned 12 witnesses, including Freeport executives and survivors of the disaster, since last Thursday.

Among the 12 witnesses were vice president for underground operations Sujatmoko, vice president for occupational health and safety Solihin, vice president for geoservice Wahyu Sunyoto, Roys Vittorio of the quality management
service division and quality management service superintendent Muhammad Roys.

A number of investigations, including one by the police and one by the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, are being carried out at Freeport'€™s underground training facility'€”the scene of the tragedy'€”2.7 kilometers from the Grasberg open-pit mine.

Twenty eight Freeport employees died and 10 others were injured when they were trapped beneath the May 14 collapse.

The evacuation and cleanup process took more than a week.

Freeport has ceased operations at both the Grasberg mine and the Deep Ore Zone (DOZ) mine, an underground block a few kilometers from Grasberg.

The Grasberg and DOZ mines produce 140,000 tons and 80,000 tons of ore respectively every day.

Freeport is one of the country'€™s biggest taxpayers and as a direct result of the closure the government is losing US$1.82 million in state revenue every day during the suspension of operation.

Deputy Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Susilo Siswoutomo said Freeport would resume its operations only after officials from the ministry concluded that it was safe for the company to carry on business. A subsequent investigation will probably take one to two months.

The government-led team of local mining experts is led by Ridho Wattimena, head of the mining engineering graduate program at Bandung Institute of Technology in Bandung, West Java.

'€œBased on our preliminary investigation, we believe that the collapse was caused by natural factors '€” perhaps there were cracks caused by erosion in the limestone of the tunnel'€™s ceiling,'€ he told The Jakarta Post on Monday, adding the early conclusion would require a more thorough analysis.

'€œ[Freeport] will only be allowed to recommence operations once our mining inspector'€™s assessment concludes that it is safe,'€ said Susilo over the phone.

Freeport Indonesia technical affairs director Rudy Seba said workers had returned to the field to ensure that all equipment was working safely.

'€œUp until now, however, we have not begun production,'€ he said in a text message to the Post.

The deaths of so many on May 14 was not the first time Freeport has been at the centre of multiple fatalities.

In December 2009, a worker died and four others were injured in another collapse. In May 2008, at least 20 Papuan gold miners, who was outsourced workers not employed by Freeport, were buried when the mine'€™s tailings heap collapsed on them after two days of heavy rain.

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