Damning report blames Pike River 'horror story' on failings by all sides

The Royal Commission's report on New Zealand's Pike River disaster has castigated all parties involved for egregious oversights and failings occasioning what some commentators have referred to as a mining "horror story."

The report was released by the Royal Commission yesterday, and describes in detail the disaster which occurred at the Pike River underground coal mine on the West Coast of New Zealand's South Island in late 2010.

The disaster occurred on 19 November 2010 when the mine exploded as a result of the ignition of a large amount of methane gas in the air. Twenty nine men were killed immediately or soon subsequently as a direct result of the blast, and the mine was subject to three more explosions over the next nine days before it was finally sealed.

The report apportions some of the blame for the tragedy to almost all parties involved, including Pike River's management and board of directors, the New Zealand Department of Labour, and the New Zealand's police and rescue services.

The report states that owner of the mine, Pike River Coal Ltd, put in place health, safety and ventilation systems which were manifestly inadequate, and in its push for profits ignored 48 reports of potentially dangerous methane levels in the 48 days prior to the explosion.

According to the report the Pike board of directors failed to ensure that "health and safety were being properly managed", while executive managers failed to "properly assess the health and safety risks that the workers were facing."

The report also castigates the government, stating that the Department of Labour merely "assumed that Pike was complying with the law" and that police and mining rescue services were left unprepared as "there had been no combined testing of an emergency response of this nature involving Pike."

The findings of the report have left New Zealand and the regional mining industry reeling. International mining experts called in to provide independent advice have called the disaster a "horror story," with mining engineer Bob Stevenson telling Fairfax that "you couldn't have been more wrong in this mine if you planned it."

Families of the deceased miners are still waiting for their remains to be recovered from the drift – a shallow tunnel leading to the closed area of the mine.

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