Joanne Ufer with her son Josh, killed in the Pike River Mine disaster in 2010.
Joanne Ufer with her son Josh, killed in the Pike River Mine disaster in 2010. Contributed

Mum outraged at fine for company in NZ mine disaster

FAMILIES reacted angrily inside Greymouth District Court in New Zealand on Monday when a judge found Valley Longwall International could not be blamed for the Pike River Mine disaster deaths.

The Australian company was fined $A37,345 for three breaches of the health and safety act. The maximum penalty is $250,000 per charge.

Three of the company's employees and contractors were among the 29 people killed in the explosion on November 24, 2010.

The New Zealand Ministry of Justice said Judge Jane Farish the only link between the company's health and safety breaches and the mine explosion was that the explosion was the catalyst for a detailed analysis and investigation of procedures at the mine.

Families were upset victim impact statements were not allowed to be read, and some of them swore and yelled when the sentence was read out.

The court refused to hear the victim impact statements of six close family members because the applicants could not be legally classified as 'victims'.

The Pike River Mine disaster killed Middlemount man Josh Ufer and Moranbah miner, William Joynson.

Neville Rockhouse, whose son, Ben Rockhouse, also died, said it was a kick in the face for the families.

"It's not very much of a deterrent at all when you consider VLI being a global company … we wanted something that sends a message. What is the value of human life?" he told Radio NZ.

Josh Ufer's mother, Joanne, who lives at Zilzie, said the families of the victims had formed a committee to keep pressure on the mine managers.

"Really this is just the beginning … we're still dealing with things every day," she said.

Mrs Ufer said they were still pushing to have the 2km long, main entrance tunnel to the mine recovered.

Valley Longwall International supplies specialised equipment and services to the coal mining industry.

The charges against the company related to its drill rig being operated without inspections being carried out.

But the company argued it was up to Pike River Coal to withdraw the rig from service if it didn't pass inspection.

The judge accepted Pike River Coal was contracted to carry out the safety checks but said Valley Longwall should have ensured the tests were completed.

The company admitted to the charges.

The bodies of the 29 men were never recovered.



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