Pike River Coal Mine

A New Zealand judge has convicted Pike River Coal of nine health and safety breaches over a 2010 gas explosion that killed 29 miners.

Judge Jane Farish ruled that the company did not ensure the safety of its miners and found a direct link between the violations at the mine and the deaths of the workers.

‘In this case there were fundamental breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act, which led to the unnecessary deaths of 29 men,” she said.

The firm was convicted at the Greymouth District Court after a two-day hearing in March.

The company, which is now in receivership, will be sentenced in July and is likely to face a fine of about $1.89m.

Pike River Coal former chief executive Peter Whittall, who is facing a separate trial, has pleaded not guilty to 12 charges; his case is yet to be heard.

The 19 November 2010 blast at the mine, on the west coast of the South Island, had rocked New Zealand and is considered to be the country’s worst mining disaster of the century.

Although the disaster occurred almost two and half years ago, the bodies of the miners are yet to be recovered.

Last year, a government investigation found the company ignored repeated warnings that methane gas had accumulated to dangerous levels and that it was exposing its miners to risks as it tried to boost production and meet financial targets.

During last month’s hearing, a mine safety expert said the mine’s methane and ventilation management was not sufficient even though it was the primary requirement for underground coal mines.

”Explosion is a well-known hazard in underground coal mining and such tragedies regularly take the lives of workers around the world,” Judge Farish noted in the judgement.

"The key to controlling these tragedies is to always keep in mind that with the right confluence of factors, an explosion can occur,” she added.

In July 2012, the company had informed the court that it would not defend the charges.

Pike’s receiver, John Fisk, of PwC, said that although the firm was bankrupt, it had a liability insurance policy that could pay compensation or fines.

Image: Pike River Coal mine is located near Greymouth on the west coast region of the South Island, New Zealand. Photo: Kaiwhakahaere.

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