‘No signs of danger prior to incident’
After the remains of all the workers buried in a collapsed tunnel at the training facility at the Freeport Indonesia mine were removed from the site, the visiting CEO of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. said on Wednesday that the accident had been impossible to predict.
Freeport-McMoRan president and CEO Richard C. Adkerson said in Jakarta on Wednesday that his company did not consider the facility used to train underground workers near the Big Gossan site in Timika, Papua, as “a dangerous place”. He said the mining giant did not see any signs of danger before the incident took place.
Of the 38 workers trapped in the tunnel that collapsed on May 14, 28 died while 10 suffered minor to major injuries. The evacuation process was concluded on Tuesday evening.
“[…] Had I been there that day I would have joined our workers in that mine because we had no concerns or fears about its safety,” Adkerson told reporters after meeting Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Jero Wacik at the latter’s office.
The training facility, according to Adkerson, was not part of Freeport-McMoRan’s mining operations. The facility was built in 1998 at the same time as the development of the Big Gossan mine, which is still in the exploration stage and 500 kilometers away from the training facility.
The top executive considered the training facility a “good one” as it was continuously utilized as the general training facility for workers years after its establishment.
“So that’s why we need to understand why this [incident] happened. We did not consider it a dangerous place. If we had any indication of danger we would never have had people there,” he said.
Currently, he said, the Phoenix, Arizona-based mining company would continue with its investigation to determine the cause of the incident as well as cooperate with the government.
Meanwhile, Jero told reporters that the government had formed a team consisting of local mining experts under the leadership of Ridho Wattimena, currently the head of the mining engineering graduate program at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).
“If [Freeport] is found to be responsible for the incident, of course, there will be punishment,” he said without going into detail.
Operations at the Grasberg mine, the country’s largest gold and copper mine, were halted after the accident. Rozik B. Soetjipto, the president director of PT Freeport Indonesia, the local arm of Freeport-McMoRan, said the mine usually produced 220,000 tons of ore per day with around 140,000 tons from open pit mining while the remaining 80,000 tons came from underground operations.
Rozik said the company was in the dark as to when the Grasberg mine would resume operations, explaining that it would concentrate on the investigation and paying compensation to the victims and their relatives.
Both the Indonesian government and Freeport have yet to announce preliminary findings of the cause of the accident eight days after it occurred.
Separately, House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Priyo Budi Santoso said Freeport had to take responsibility for the victims of the collapsed tunnel regardless of the result of the ensuing investigation, adding that the House would closely monitor the matter.
“I don’t want to speculate what caused the disaster. Freeport must be accountable before the law if the investigation later concludes that the company was responsible for it [the collapse],” the Golkar Party politician said in Jakarta on Wednesday.
“I hope the company will nonetheless take responsibility for the victims even if the investigation concludes that it was purely a natural disaster.”
It is not the first time such an incident has occurred at Freeport’s operations in Indonesia.
In December 2009, a worker died and four others were injured in a landslide, while in May 2008, at least 20 Papuan gold miners were buried when the mine’s tailings pile collapsed on them after two days of heavy rain.