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Mine company probes two deaths in Ratanakkiri

The mine shaft into which two gold miners fell and died when a piece of equipment broke last week in Ratanakkiri province.
The mine shaft into which two gold miners fell and died when a piece of equipment broke last week in Ratanakkiri province. Photo supplied

Mine company probes two deaths in Ratanakkiri

New details have emerged surrounding the Friday deaths of two miners – one of them under the legal working age – at the diggings of Indian firm Mesco Gold in Ratanakkiri province, with company officials acknowledging yesterday that the fatalities might have been prevented, but also offering conflicting accounts of how the accident happened.

The company on Sunday said the two victims – trainees Chak Sarith, 17, and Chak Sarom, 20 – had ignored clear safety instructions not to use a bucket, meant to carry rocks, to lower themselves down the vertical shaft.

Sudheer Gulwade, general manager at Mesco in Ratanakkiri, yesterday said the victims were using the bucket to go up, and that there were two instructors at the bottom of the shaft, raising questions as to why the instructors had permitted the trainees to get into the bucket. He said there was also a signal man, at the top of the shaft, and a driver, in a nearby room, to operate the bucket.

“If the signal man does not give a signal, the driver will not operate,” he said, adding that the company was investigating how the signal was given if people were in the bucket. “We are investigating everything. There is always a chance to prevent [deaths]. We will have a recommendation on how to prevent similar accidents in the future.”

Those directly involved in the accident are not being allowed to work, pending investigations by the company and the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

However, another company official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that trainees were in fact travelling down, and that the bucket operator had knowingly allowed them to use the bucket.

“We asked the operator, ‘Why did you allow the trainees to use the bucket?’” he said, adding the operator stated he had told the miners not to, but they wanted to try it. He said the bucket operator was terminated on Friday. One of the instructors in the shaft also suffered minor injuries.

Company Director Rajeev Moudgil said the matter was still under investigation and an internal report was still being prepared.

Gulwade and the anonymous official said the company was aware that one of the trainees was two months shy of turning 18. Cambodia’s Labour Law prohibits those under 18 from working in underground mines.

“He asked us to . . . give him a job because his family owes money to the bank,” the anonymous company official said.

Mines Ministry officials couldn’t be reached for comment.

Additional reporting by Niem Chheng

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