Pike River putting sale ahead of recovery: families

Families of the Pike River Coal victims say the receivers are more concerned with selling the mine than recovering the bodies of those killed in the disaster.

Last week, receivers announced plans to sell the mine and state-owned Solid Energy has confirmed it is one of the bidders.

Solid Energy said they are the only company with enough experience mining on New Zealand’s West Coast to be able to make the mine financially viable again, and have warned other potential bidders it may cost more money to do so than many assume.

Spokesman for the families, Bernie Monk said the families feel their loved ones are being ignored by receivers more concerned with finalising a sale.

The bodies of the 29 miners killed when explosions ripped through the underground mine on November 19 remain inside the mine, and there have previously been suggestions they may never be retrieved.

But Monk said the families are still desperate to see a recovery operation.

"The gloves are off now,” he told the New Zealand Herald.

"Are you putting dollars before getting our men out of the mine?

‘Three weeks ago we were told they were sending a robot in to see how bad the rockfall was.

“ It hasn’t happened.

"They don’t want to go down there.

“They want to sell the mine and walk away."

Receiver John Fisk, from PricewaterhouseCoopers said he is balancing the concerns of the families and his legal requirements to get the best possible price for the mine and it is not the receivers’ responsibility to retrieve the bodies.

Rather, it is their duty to manage the assets of Pike River Coal Ltd.

In January, the receivers said they would continue recovery efforts at the mine for up to two months, after police abandoned their operation because it was too dangerous to enter.

Fisk said the mine is still too unstable for recovery teams to go down.

"We’ve got a duty as receivers to get the best price reasonably obtainable at the time of sale. We have to go through the process to ensure we’ve discharged that duty,” he said.

"If a recovery became possible we would hand responsibility for the operation back to police."

Fisk said it would probably be a condition of the sale that if the recovery effort became possible, the company in charge would be required to hand the mine over to police.

"It won’t just be on the level of the offer,” Fisk said.

"There will be other factors that will be taken into account.

"While we don’t have responsibility for body recovery, if we can see an opportunity where they can be recovered we will take it.

“Purchasers will need to take that into account when they’re making an offer for the asset.

"We want to work with the families. We’re very sympathetic for their position."

Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn has also entered into the argument about the recovery versus the sale, saying receivers should be focused on launching a recovery operation, and the families could not have closure until they got the remains of their loved ones.

"Even if it is a buckle or anything,” Kokshoorn said.

"Closure for them is getting something back."

Solid Energy has said recovering the 29 bodies will be a priority if it is the successful bidder and is committed to addressing the “many challenges” of making the mine economically viable while also fulfilling the wishes of the families of victims.

"As a non-negotiable part of that, the wishes of the families have to be a priority in considering all options including potential recovery, if feasible, of the 29 miners’ bodies,” he said.

“The same applies to the unsecured creditors on the West Coast; any solution to invest in and work the mine needs to address that issue as a top priority."

West Coast miners would fight any company that did not make the recovery of the 29 bodies part of its plan, Monk said.

"I’m all for Solid Energy but if they’re going to bring in a firm from somewhere else that’s not going to get the bodies out then the Coasters won’t rush to them, I tell you that."

New Zealand radio has reported it is unlikely any Australian companies will express an interest in buying the mine.

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