Vale halts production after 39 workers trapped in Totten mine in Canada

Totten mine aerial view. Photo courtesy of Vale.

Vale SA, one of the world’s biggest producers of iron ore and nickel, expects all 39 workers trapped in an underground mine since Sunday to be freed by tonight.   

Workers at the Totten mine in Sudbury, Ontario, are safe, uninjured and beginning their ascent via a ladder system with the support of a rescue team, the Rio de Janeiro-based company said in a statement Monday.

The 39 people were trapped after an excavator that was being transported into the mine dislodged, blocking the shaft. They proceeded to refuge stations, have had access to food and water and have been in frequent contact with above-ground staff.

Vale’s shares fell on the news, before recovering, as the incident invoked memories of the 2010 San Jose mine cave-in in Chile, where 33 men were trapped for 69 days before being lifted to safety. While Totten is a far more sophisticated operation than San Jose, the accident may hinder Vale’s efforts to boost its environmental, social and governance credentials in the wake of two Brazilian tailings disasters in the past six years. 

“We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of these employees and will provide further updates as they become available,” Vale said on Monday. 

In the first six months of 2021, Totten produced 3,600 metric tons of nickel, or about 4% of the company’s total. Output is suspended and Vale is assessing necessary measures to resume production.

Vale inherited the then-inactive and water-filled Totten facility in 2006 when the Brazilian company acquired Inco. Vale spent about $700 million to bring the nickel-copper mine into production in 2014.

(By Mariana Durao)

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