NeW

Charges filed in New Zealand 2010 mine explosion

AP News
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Posted: Nov 10, 2011 12:27 AM
Charges filed in New Zealand 2010 mine explosion

New Zealand's Labour Department filed 25 criminal charges Thursday over safety and health violations at a coal mine where an explosion last year killed 29 miners.

Each of the charges in the Pike River coal mine disaster carries a maximum fine of 250,000 New Zealand dollars ($195,000).

The charges are against three parties, but the agency declined to name them or detail the exact charges, saying that New Zealand's restrictive rules on releasing information in court proceedings could apply to the case.

The Pike River coal mine was rocked by an explosion on Nov. 19, 2010, trapping the 29 men. A second major explosion five days later dashed hopes any of the workers had survived.

An official probe into the disaster is continuing in New Zealand. But the Labour Department needed to file the charges before the probe concluded in order to comply with a one-year statute of limitations rule.

During the probe, mine experts have been critical of the mine's single entrance and its ventilation system, which some said was inadequate to properly rid the mine of volatile gasses like methane.

Others have testified that the Pike River company was facing financial pressures and may have cut corners as a result.

Pike River Coal Ltd. was forced into bankruptcy in the weeks following the disaster and the mine remains up for sale. The New Zealand government has stipulated that any buyer must try to recover the bodies of the 29 miners, which remain trapped in the mine amid fears that the atmosphere inside is still unstable.