Australian drilling company admits safety violations over pit disaster that killed 29

 

An Australian drilling company has admitted three health and safety violations in connection with a pit disaster in New Zealand in 2010 in which 29 miners were killed.

VLI Drilling pleaded guilty in a New Zealand court today to charges that it failed to keep its workers safe at the Pike River coal mine.

The company faces a maximum fine of 750,000 New Zealand dollars (£386,000).

VLI, a contractor at the mine, employed three of the men who died.

Several criminal charges are also pending against the main mine operator, Pike River Coal Ltd, which employed the rest of the victims.

Bernie Monk, the father of a Pike River Coal employee killed in the disaster and a spokesman for all of the victims' families, said VLI has been able to walk away without facing any meaningful consequences.

"For me it's only a slap on the wrist," he said. "It's very hard to defend."

The men died after a series of methane-fuelled explosions. The Labour Department said in a statement of facts about the case that it was not known if VLI's drill rig was running at the time of the first explosion. However, the department said VLI's methane detector on the rig was faulty and needed replacing, and had not been inspected as required.

Brett Lynch, the chief executive of parent company Valley Longwall International, emphasised in a statement that the charges did not relate to the explosion itself. He said he regretted VLI not having in place proper procedures to ensure inspections were carried out.

"We regard the safety and well-being of our people as an absolute priority," he said.

Mr Lynch said the company had provided "ongoing financial and practical support" to the families of its three dead employees, adding that it would be inappropriate to disclose details.

Meanwhile, Pike River Coal elected not to contest nine health and safety charges. A court is scheduled in October to determine the bankrupt company's culpability. Pike River's former chief executive Peter Whittall also faces 12 criminal charges, which he has vowed to fight.

At a government inquiry into the disaster, experts testified that the mine did not have adequate escape routes or ventilation, and that Pike River Coal was cutting corners due to financial pressure. The inquiry is scheduled to issue its findings in September.

But Mr Monk, whose 23-year-old son Michael died in the accident, said the failure to date by New Zealand authorities to hold anybody accountable in a meaningful way or to implement better safety procedures has him deeply frustrated. He said he and other victims' relatives will continue to push for both legal and mine safety reforms.

"We've had to fight every inch of the way to be heard," he said.

He added that the families would consider civil litigation once the government inquiry concluded.

Mr Lynch said he did not expect civil litigation to be brought against his company because the safety charges did not relate to the explosion.

The Labour Department said in an email that any fines collected from VLI would go to the government rather than to the victims' families.

AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi and Nick Frost star in the Doctor Who Christmas Special, Last Christmas
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran