St Barbara employees barred from entering Solomon Islands

Employees of gold miner St Barbara have been banned from re-entering the country by the Solomon Islands government, three weeks after heavy rain and catastrophic flash flooding caused the evacuation of the mine.

The floods killed 21 people in the Solomon Islands, and left 50,000 people homeless.

The restriction on entering the country has been issued to allow a joint agencies investigation between the Labour Division, Immigration, Police, Ministry of Mines and Energy, and the minister of Environment, to look into the safety and security of the mine site.

The Prime Minister’s special secretary Dr Phil Tagini has said that the immigration department has prevented St Barbara employees from entering the country.

Dr Tagini said that there are significant concerns for the safety of locals living downstream from the mine

“We all want to get to a situation where the mine stabilised, and then profitable,” he said.

“The general community, the feeling downstream and along the river, they felt that the social licence hasn’t been thoroughly complied with, in terms of how the miners left the mine without informing the relevant departments.”

Dr Tagini said that the police, the land-owning communities and the Environment Department felt St Barbara’s employees actions were not totally appropriate or responsible.

Gold Ridge director Tim Lehany has said that all reasonable steps were taken to secure equipment and hazardous materials before the employees left the Gold Ridge site.

The stability of the tailings dam has been called into question, with 8000 people living nearby in an area that will be in danger if the dam fails.

The Solomon Islands authorities, in conjunction with United Nations specialists, will assess the stability of the tailings dam, as well as look at issues such as the various chemicals, cyanide, explosives and other hazards to the environment and people.

1000 millimetres, a full metre of rain was recorded over the four days preceding April 4, including 500mm in a single 24 hour period.

The flooding caused extensive damage to roads, including road access to the mine and a single key bridge, which isolated the mine from fuel supplies, food and medical supplies.

In response to the flooding crisis, St Barbara and Gold Ridge Mining donated $100,000 to the Australian Red Cross to assist with emergency aid.

In the second half of 2013, Gold Ridge produced 29,431 ounces of gold.

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