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Mine company told to reform after deaths

The mine shaft in which two miners were killed at the Mesco Gold mining site in Ratanakkiri province. Photo supplied
The mine shaft in which two miners were killed at the Mesco Gold mining site in Ratanakkiri province. Photo supplied

Mine company told to reform after deaths

An official with the Indian mining firm Mesco Gold in Ratanakkiri, where two miners were killed in October, yesterday said the company was asked to take corrective action to replace mineshaft baskets and provide safety equipment to workers following an independent investigation.

The company official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a consultant, Graeme Chester, who was hired by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) to carry out the independent audit, shared the investigation findings with the ministry and Mesco Gold’s general manager, Sudheera Gulwade.

The official said the firm had not been penalised by the ministry, which only requested the company make corrections to its technical processes and provide safety equipment.

Two brothers – one of them under the legal age to work at a mine site – were killed when a metal basket designed to carry materials into the mineshaft came crashing down in October.

The Law on Mineral Resource Management and Exploitation calls for the suspension or cancellation of a licence if the holder breaches the law. It also calls for companies to have technically and financially sound operations, and to ensure the protection of “worker health and safety”.

“We need to install new baskets,” the company official said. “The old ones [received] so many comments by MME, and also the investigating team, and also local authorities. They said, ‘This is a problem’.”

Chester this week declined to comment, but last month, soon before completing his audit, he said that “the process used in the situation were the employees were killed has not been used since”.

He added that a new design for the baskets was nearly ready for approval to proceed with trials carrying concrete and materials.

The company official said Mesco Gold was now installing the “correct” basket that will be used to carry miners and materials.

“We need to train [workers] with the new baskets, with MME watching for one week to see if [they are] suitable” to reduce safety risks, he said, adding the trial could take place as early as next week.

General Manager Gulwade yesterday said the company was still waiting for feedback from the ministry. Company Director Rajeev Moudgil has repeatedly declined to comment on the investigation.

Ministry spokesman Yos Monirath said that the ministry had only received the investigation findings last week, and was now preparing a letter to call Mesco Gold for a meeting.

He said that according to the investigation, the fatal accident occurred when a rope attached to the basket broke, causing the basket to fall, killing the workers. However, he declined to say whether company was at fault.

“We do not dare say that yet,” he said.

Monirath said before making a conclusion, the ministry needs to have a meeting with the company for an “evaluation”. After the meeting, the ministry will also decide whether to release the audit to the public.

Environmental activist Alex Gonzalez-Davidson said “gold is an asset of the nation, thus it belongs to all Cambodians. So[,] the Ministry of Mines and Energy [has] the duty to be completely transparent on all matters that concern the industry, especially when it involves extremely serious issues, such as the death of people.”

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