NZ Govt may fund Pike River body recovery

The New Zealand government says it may fund a recovery plan for the bodies of the Pike River Coal victims, if it is credible and likely to succeed.

Prime Minister John Key told New Zealand media yesterday that a safe proposal for entering the mine has never been presented to the government.

Lawyers for the families say the government should show some initiative and leadership by being involved in creating a plan.

Yesterday plans for a recovery team to enter the mine where 29 men were killed in November was announced, following pressure from families to find an alternate way to enter the toxic mine.

Their calls to recover the bodies entombed in the mine come after footage taken inside the mine showed a fully-clothed person laying face down, as well as the suspected sighting of another body.

A meeting held between the families, rescuers and the government on Monday dealt with the issue of entering the mine safely.

Officials had been asked to get a full safety briefing on the mine from the Mines Rescue Trust and police, Key told stuff.co.nz.

"I’m happy to look at proposals that might be put up to go into the mine.

"I’m not ruling out putting in money. I’ve always said it’s not an issue of money."

He says the first priority would remain the safety of those entering the mine.

The government has not ruled out funding a feasibility study to establish the best way to re-enter the mine.

Lawyer for the families, Nicolas Davidson QC said it was up to the government to ensure there was a credible plan to recover the bodies and that there has been “"no planning at any level to get into the mine.”

"There has to be leadership in this plan being created,” he said.

The Government must be involved."

Davidson said the receivers refuse to fund a plan and the families can’t afford to fund one, so it is up to the government to step in and assist.

"The police did have the responsibility for recovery but they handed over to the receivers, and when that happened the plan they may have developed came to an end."

He believes police had to take charge of working out how to recover the bodies.

"There must be a clear line of responsibility for a plan which will work.

“This has simply not happened.

"The police should be in charge of any recovery operation, which would be undertaken by Mines Rescue with the mine owners."

In April it was announced that New Zealand police had spent $11 million on a recovery effort, before handing the mine over to receivers.

Family spokesman, Bernie Monk, said that following stabilisation work in the mine entrance, there should be "no problem" gaining access to the parts of the mine where the men were killed.

He said it would be easier to produce a "credible plan" after the access tunnel was made safe, and he believed the Government "would eventually come back on board" for "the sake of the West Coast and New Zealand".

The families have long been calling on any potential buyers of the mine to include a recovery effort in their plans.

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn has echoed the request, saying whoever buys the mine should have to recover the miners’ bodies.

New Zealand Labour say Pike River receivers, PricewaterhouseCoopers must pour all its resources into the recovery of the bodies.

Labour leader Phil Goff said the first call on meeting the cost of a recovery plan should be on the receivers and any resources it holds on behalf of Pike River.

"Recovering the bodies should be the receiver’s priority.

"The company owes it, and the receivers on behalf of the company, owe it to the families," he said.

"Whatever its obligations might be."

Contractors owed money would want to see the bodies of their workers recovered, Goff said, adding that the recovery was more important now the families had seen images of bodies in the mine.

"They’ve seen the relatively intact bodies in the films and they can’t possibly get closure until such time as they know their loved ones are laid to rest properly."

 

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