Lumina Copper halts Chilean mine operations after worker's death

Lumina Copper has halted operations at its Caserones mine, in Chile’s northern Atacama region, following the death of one of its contractors.

The company, majority-owned by Japan's top smelter, JX Nippon Mining & Metals, in conjunction with fellow miners Mitsui Mining and Mitsui Co., said the fatal accident happened on Tuesday afternoon outside the truck shop.

Lumina noted the cause of the accident that killed José Arled Cataño Velásquez, an employee for service provider Global Group Ingeniería, is under investigation, Minería Chilena reported.

The cause of the accident that killed an employee of service provider Global Group Ingeniería is under investigation

Caserones has become a source of worries for its owners. The copper mine, behind schedule ever since it began producing in May 2014, has not only been affected by a series of technical problems in its ramp-up phase, but it has also cost the Japanese miners hefty impairment charges.

The expected annual production still falls short of the 150,000 tonnes target intended when the company started construction of the mine, operated by Minera Lumina Copper Chile (MLCC), which currently faces fines of up to $54.8 million for infractions to the provisions established in its mining permit.

This is not the first time Chile's Superintendency of the Environment (SMA) has gone after Lumina. In 2015, SMA ordered the company to pay $11.9 million for breaching environmental rules. At the time, it was the second-highest fine the SMA had imposed since it was created in 2012.

The largest penalty until then — $16 million — was issued in 2013 to Barrick Gold’s now shuttered Pascua Lama gold and silver mine.

Caserones is located at an altitude of 4,200m to 4,600m above sea-level in the Atacama Desert, close to the border with Argentina. The mine is operated by Lumina, and is 77% -owned by Pan Pacific Copper, a firm controlled by JX Nippon Mining & Metals under JX Holdings Inc. Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co Ltd holds the remainder.