Prosecutors order Vale to close operations following disaster

JP Casey 19 March 2019 (Last Updated July 26th, 2019 10:33)

The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais has ordered Vale to close a third mine in the wake of a collapse of a tailings dam at one of the miner’s iron projects in the state, which has left more than 300 people dead or missing.

Prosecutors order Vale to close operations following disaster
A Vale building in São Paulo, Brazil. Credit: Felipe Mostarda.

The Brazilian state of Minas Gerais has ordered Vale to close a third mine in the wake of a collapse of a tailings dam at one of the miner’s iron projects in the state, which has left more than 300 people dead or missing.

On Friday, state prosecutors ordered the closure of the Timbopeba mine, which is responsible for 12.8 million tonnes (Mt) of iron production per year, as criminal investigations into the negligence of Vale and its executives continue. While Vale insists that the mine’s Doutor dam was verified as safe by Brazil’s National Mining Agency the day before the closure was ordered, prosecutors are eager to close any dams which display an increased risk of unsafe operations.

Vale has already suspended operations at its Minervino and Cordao Nova Vista dams. While the company claims these closures will not have a significant impact on total iron production, the company is estimated to have lost more than 80Mt of annual production following the disaster.

Friday also saw the first meeting of the Pro-Brumadinho Steering Committee, a group made up of representatives from the state government that aims to catalogue the consequences of the disaster, and plan recovery projects around the town of Brumadinho, which bore the brunt of the collapse.

“The committee is important to make the state an accelerator in solving Brumadinho’s problems,” said Minas Gerais general secretary Igor Eto at the meeting. “We do not want to repeat Mariana’s model. We need to work so that tragedies like this do not happen again in Minas Gerais.”

Eto here referred to the fallout of the 2015 Samarco disaster, another tailings dam collapse, where those affected by the disaster have still not be compensated by the dam’s owners, Vale and BHP.

A key aim of the committee is to ensure Vale pays compensation swiftly. State prosecutors have already begun levying heavy financial penalties at the company. Vale has been ordered to freeze funds of $260m in order to provide compensation for families affected by the disaster, which will ensure Vale is held to a pledge made in February that it would provide reparations of $3,000 to each adult affected by the disaster.

In a separate case, prosecutors have also pressed for Vale to contribute $13.2bn towards repairing the environmental damage caused by the accident.

Vale acknowledged the orders in a statement, saying: “In addition to the block of funds, the decision also requires that Vale pays for the sheltering, lodging, maintenance and feeding of the removed people, besides the adoption of other measures aiming to grant assistance to the affected community.

“Vale was not formally notified of the decision and will take the appropriate measures in due course.”