Recovering bodies too expensive: Pike River receivers

Pike River Coal receivers say they cannot recover the bodies of the 29 men who lay entombed in the New Zealand mine because they can’t afford it.

Recovery teams entered the mine on Tuesday, following numerous set backs due to the instability of the toxic mine.

The bodies are thought to be trapped 2.5 kilometres underground and the rescue team has outlined a plan to enter the mine 100 metres at a time.

An added obstacle to reaching the bodies would also be a pile of rocks blocking the main area where the men were last thought to be working.

John Fisk from PricewaterhouseCoopers said there is $1 million set aside for the re-entry operation, which would cover the costs of teams to reach the rockfall, but would not fund them venturing any closer to the bodies.

He told Radio New Zealand it will be the responsibility of the buyers of the mine to pay for the bodies to be recovered.

"We will use our commercially best endeavours to achieve that, but I think everyone recognised…that wasn’t something we could insist on at the end of the day, it will be up to the purchaser to reach an agreement," he said.

But the Secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, Ged O’Connell has slammed the receiver’s statements, and said the purchaser of the mine could face an international boycott if an appropriate recovery plan was not outlined.

Prime Minister John Key said on Tuesday the New Zealand government is looking at ways to make a recovery effort a condition of the mine’s sale.

"If it is possible in the future, then that is something we will closely look at.

“It’s something we will financially support.

Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn has praised the federal government for its assistance and cooperation at Pike River and said current discussions are productive.

"Signs are good at this point that we may be able to tag the licence and the body recovery plan as a package deal," Kokshoorn said.

Such a clause in the sale would be welcomed by the families of victims, who have been calling froa recovery since the beginning.

Spokesman for the families, Bernie Monk said they were “never going away,” and all parties need to work together to “nut out” the issues.

"It’s very important that everyone gets together on this,” he said.

The most prominent bidder for the mine is state-owned Solid Energy, who previously said it was the only company with enough west coast mining experience to recover the bodies and make Pike River financially viable again.

"Solid Energy remains committed to recovering the bodies of the 29 miners, if possible, and to address the situation of the unsecured West Coast creditors,” the company said in a statement last month.

"We expect that any company seeking to acquire the assets should be held to the same expectations."

Solid Energy has not made any further comments since signing a confidentiality agreement with the receivers.

The New Zealand Prime Minister has also not ruled out the possibility of his government owning the mine.

Pike River Coal is currently in massive debt and have admitted unsecured contractors owed $5 million may never be paid.

The group of contractors have filed a court action to have the company placed in liquidation so they can receive the money they’re owed.

Statutory mine manager Steve Ellis said yesterday teams were aiming to have work on a temporary seal inside the mine finished by tomorrow.

Teams are then expected to withdraw from the mine to monitor its gas levels for about a week, he said.

A steel door will eventually be installed in the entrance to the mine.
Kokshoorn said the progress was a "real confidence booster" for Greymouth.

"This is a big step forward, we’ve been waiting now with the families for seven months and it’s been a hard, hard seven months.”
 

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