A training tunnel collapsed on Tuesday at the world’s second largest copper mine in eastern Indonesia, trapping at least 33 workers underground, the mine’s owner, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc, said. Earlier reports, quoting a mine official at the scene, had said three workers were killed in the accident, but the Arizona-based firm denied any deaths had occurred. Rescue efforts were under way at the remote Grasberg mine in West Papua province. Output at the mine, which also has the world’s largest gold reserves and employs just over 24,000 contract and non-contract workers, was not expected to be significantly affected, the company said. “A tunnel in the underground training area collapsed, trapping a number of employees,” the company said in a statement. “The rescue process is difficult and will take some time to complete.”
At least 40 workers had been in an underground training facility when it collapsed early on Tuesday, the statement said. Three people escaped unhurt, while four were rescued and received medical treatment. “Freeport Indonesia does not expect this event to have a material effect on mining and milling operations or development activities,” the statement said. Government authorities had been informed, the company said. The collapse is one of a series of worker-related incidents at the mine in recent months. This month, a group of contract workers returned to work after successful pay talks ended a three-day work stoppage. The last major strike at Freeport Indonesia, in 2011, lasted for three months, caused copper and gold output to drop 15 percent and was Indonesia’s longest-ever industrial dispute. Freeport Indonesia says its sales are expected to reach 1.1 billion pounds of copper and 1.2 million ounces of gold in 2013, up 54 percent and 31 percent over 2012 figures, respectively, as mining moves into higher ore grades.
Tuesday, 14 May, 2013 at 13:29 (01:29 PM) UTC RSOE
“Four workers have been pulled alive from a tunnel that collapsed at a mine in remote eastern Indonesia Tuesday but 33 others remained trapped, the US operator said.
The accident happened at Freeport-McMoRan’s Grasberg mine, one of the world’s biggest gold and copper mines which has been hit by a string of problems including a major 2011 strike that affected production.
“Rescuers have evacuated four of the 37 people believed trapped when part of a tunnel collapsed at an underground training facility,” the Indonesian subsidiary of Freeport said in a statement.
Local police chief Jermias Rontini told AFP those evacuated had been taken to hospital but did not know their conditions.
Rontini was not hopeful for those still trapped. “In the past, similar tunnel collapses caused fatalities as people who were trapped couldn’t get enough oxygen.”
Freeport said 40 employees and contract workers had been in a classroom at the training facility when the tunnel collapsed at about 7:30 am but three managed to escape immediately.
The tunnel is 500 metres away from one of the mining areas, high in the mountains of rugged Papua province.
Freeport said rescue operations were “difficult and will take some time to complete” but added “it would spare no effort” to save the trapped workers. The company added it did not expect production to be affected.
The company has not identified the nationalities of those involved in the accident, although the vast majority of the more than 24,000 workers at the mine are Indonesian. Neither police nor Freeport said why the accident happened.
The 2011 strike lasted three months and crippled production, only ending once the firm agreed to a huge pay rise.
The industrial action sparked a wave of deadly clashes between police and gunmen around the mine, with at least 11 people, all Indonesians, killed.
Earlier this month, some 1,100 workers employed by Freeport contractors staged a three-day strike over pay but it caused only minimal disruption to production.” – AFP/ globalpost.com