Pike River ordered to pay victim compensation

An emotional Judge Jane Farish has today awarded compensation to the victims of the Pike River mine explosion in New Zealand.

The mine owner Pike River Coal (PRC) has been ordered to pay $760,000 in fines and more than $3 million in reparations for breaches of health and safety regulations.

The families of the 29 men that were killed in the disaster along with two survivors were each awarded $110,000 in compensation.

But the company is now in receivership and according to 3news.co.nz it has just $156,000 available in a post-explosion insurance fund for fines and reparations.

Farish said she is confident the reparation would be paid despite concerns of the company’s financial status.

But the company has indicated it only has enough money to pay $NZ5000 to each family, The Australian reported.

"The hazards were well known, they were predictable and they were preventable," Farish said.

"At the time of the explosion there were many indicators that the mine was an unsafe and in a potentially explosive position, yet the warning signs were not noticed and not heeded."

Found guilty in April, the company did not contest the nine charges under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, which encompassed failure to properly measure methane levels, failure to ensure proper ventilation, failure to check panel geology, and failure to mitigate explosion risk.

PRC was also charged for failing to ensure the safety of the youngest victim, 16-year-old Joseph Dunbar.

Family members yesterday addressed the court speaking of the ongoing grief and financial repercussions they have endured since the November 19, 2010 gas explosion.

Impact statements read aloud in court told of depression, attempted suicides, divorce, and the trauma knowing the victim’s remains are still inside the mine.

Beth Mackie spoke of loss of her son Samuel and the ongoing grief she experiences.

"An act of violence has been brought against my son and I am very angry and bitter," she said.

"That a company could play Russian roulette with his life is like something from a horror movie."

Joanne Ufer’s 25 year-old son Joshua was one of the men who died in the gas explosion. 

Ufer has previously told Australian Mining that the results feel like a “shallow victory” especially because its receivership status means the fines probably won’t be paid.

“It is a bit of a shallow victory really to now have the knowledge that two of the three that were charged by the Department of Labour (being Valley Longwall and Pike River) have been found guilty of those safety breaches,” she said.

“Valley Longwall’s fine was insignificant considering that three of their employees died at Pike River including my son Joshua.

“Pike River Company is basically a non-entity as they are in receivership and I cannot imagine that any fine they receive will be able to be paid.”

But Ufer said if anything can come from this tragedy it’s that worker’s safety should always be a company’s top priority.

“If a valuable lesson can be learnt from this, it is that companies need to look after their workers, their most valuable asset,” she said.

“Nothing can bring them back once they are gone.”

Former chief executive of the mine Peter Whittall is also facing 12 health and safety charges over alleged failures relating to the explosion.

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