Samarco lawsuit settlement to be announced

Settlement of a lawsuit against Samarco Mineracao will be announced by the Brazilian government tonight.

The November 2015 failure of a tailings dam wall which destroyed the village of Bento Rodriguez was labelled Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.

Almost immediately following the catastrophe the state of Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo and the Brazilian government announced a suit against the Samarco joint venture, owned by BHP and Vale, for $R20.2 billion ($7 billion AUD) worth of damages.

Brazilian Police have also joined the legal stoush with accusations of qualified homicide against seven Samarco officials of homicide over the deaths of 19 people in the mudslide and flooding.

The penalty for qualified homicide is between 12 to 30 years in prison. To date two of the 19 dead have not been found.

On Friday Samarco made application to the government for licensing to store tailings, the first step required to restart operations at the mine.

Brazilian Police have also alleged that the disaster was partially caused by the mine ramping up production in response to falling iron ore prices.

BHP and CEO Andrew Mackenzie have made statements to the effect that Samarco was committed to the “highest standards” of safety, however Minas Gerais public prosecutor Carlos Eduardo Pinto said there was evidence of “repeated continual negligence in the actions of a company owned by Vale and BHP”.

Police and prosecutors suggest that the structure of the dam wall was weakened by liquefaction due to too much water in the tailings from the mine.

It is understood that sensors installed to monitor the ground moisture and stability of the dam wall showed serious danger warnings in 2014 and 2015.

Brazilian current affairs program Fantastico reported that studies of the dam wall did not include sensor data from critical areas of the dam.

"It is an extremely grave omission that compromised the operational security of the dam," Pinto said.

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