Rio Tinto has said damage caused to a rock shelter by a blast near the Nammuldi iron ore mine in the Pilbara is likely not structural.
The blast dislodged a tree and rock overhanging the shelter on Muntulgura Guruma land, but initial assessments taken by drone have not found any impacts to cultural materials.
“As part of our cultural heritage monitoring and management processes, last month we identified the fall of a Pilbara scrub tree and a one-square-metre rock from the overhang of a rock shelter in an area adjacent to the Nammuldi mine site,” Rio Tinto said.
“As soon as we identified this, we paused nearby blasting work which was occurring 150 metres away, and notified the Traditional Owners of the land, the Muntulgura Guruma people.
Rio has apologised to the Muntulgura Guruma people for the incident and is planning an on-site visit to the shelter to investigate further.
“We are working closely with the Muntulgura Guruma people to better understand what has happened and will be guided by them on the appropriate next steps,” the company said.
The ABC reported Rio Tinto is working with the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC), who represent the Muntulgura Guruma people to understand how the incident occurred.
“The blast was designed so it would mimic effectively what you’d see in the natural environment,” Rio Tinto chief executive officer of iron ore operations Simon Trott said.
“We need to understand what’s caused that so we can look at our controls and make whatever changes that we need to.”
The news comes three years after Rio Tinto’s 2020 Juukan Gorge mine blast where two rock shelters were destroyed.
The miner established the Juukan Gorge legacy foundation in response to the incident and committed to greater transparency around its approach to cultural heritage protection.