New Zealand crews reenter coal mine 8 years after 29 killed

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In this image released by the Pike River Recovery Agency, families gather at the entrance of the Pike River Mine, near Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand, Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (AP)
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This handout photo from the Pike River Family Reference Group taken on and recieved by AFP on May 21, 2019 shows family members and workers watching the re-opening of the entrance to the Pike River Mine where 29 miners lost their lives in an explosion in 2010 in the north west of the South Island of New Zealand. (AFP)
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In this image released by the Pike River Recovery Agency, workers react after the first of the two airlock doors was opened in the Pike River Mine, near Greymouth on the West Coast of New Zealand, Tuesday, May 21, 2019. (AP)
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This handout photo from the Pike River Family Reference Group taken on and recieved by AFP on May 21, 2019 shows family members and workers hugging after the re-opening of the entrance to the Pike River Mine where 29 miners lost their lives in an explosion in 2010 in the north west of the South Island of New Zealand. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2019
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New Zealand crews reenter coal mine 8 years after 29 killed

  • The plan won’t allow access into the inner workings of the mine, which are blocked by a massive rockfall

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Crews in New Zealand on Tuesday reentered an underground coal mine where a methane explosion killed 29 workers more than eight years ago, raising hopes among family members that they might find bodies and new evidence that leads to criminal charges.
Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton was killed in the explosion, said the families had been fighting for this ever since the Pike River mine exploded.
“We did it. We won,” she said.
She said it had been a “hugely emotional” day for the families and it was a moving experience to watch people going back into the mine. She said they hope the crews can recover electronic equipment that indicates what went wrong, much like the black box in a plane.
“The families are all hoping that the team going in, with their forensic expertise, will find new evidence for future prosecutions against those who allowed the mine to blow up in first place,” she said.
Nigel Hampton, a lawyer who is acting for the families, said that if they discover what ignited the methane, it could help link acts of negligence with the deaths of the miners and result in charges such as manslaughter.
“There’s still a long way to go yet, but it’s possible,” he said.
Two workers escaped the mine after the deadly November 2010 explosion. After several more explosions, the mine was sealed shut with a concrete barrier.
New Zealand’s previous conservative government concluded the mine remained too unsafe to reenter. But the liberal government elected in 2017, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, reconsidered.
“New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability,” said Andrew Little, the minister responsible for Pike River reentry. “That is not who we are. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise. Today we have returned.”
The plan won’t allow access into the inner workings of the mine, which are blocked by a massive rockfall. It remains unclear how many miners were on either side of the rockfall at the time of the explosion or how many bodies might be recovered.
New Zealand police said they’ll be examining any new evidence from the mine, which they could use to file charges.
An earlier investigation concluded the Pike River Coal company had exposed miners to unacceptable risks as it strove to meet financial targets. The report found the company ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to explosive levels before the disaster.
The company, which went bankrupt, didn’t contest labor violation charges against it.
Labor violation charges against former chief executive Peter Whittall were dismissed after he and the company made a financial settlement, a development which angered many of the grieving families. New Zealand’s Supreme Court later ruled the settlement was unlawful.
Whittall moved to Australia about five years ago.


Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

Updated 21 September 2019

Britain and EU spar over Brexit as clock ticks down

  • Britain says a deal is possible
  • Ireland says not close to a deal

LONDON/BRUSSELS : Britain said on Friday a Brexit deal with the European Union could be reached at a summit next month, but EU member Ireland said the sides were far from agreement and London had not yet made serious proposals.
Three years after Britons voted to leave the EU, hopes of a breakthrough over the terms of its departure have been stoked in recent days by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the shape of a deal is emerging and European Commission President Juncker saying agreement is possible.
But diplomats say the two sides are split over London’s desire to remove the Irish border “backstop” from the divorce deal struck by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and then work out a replacement in coming years.
The backstop is an insurance policy to keep the 500-km (300-mile) border between Ireland, which will remain in the EU, and the British province of Northern Ireland open after Brexit.
“We both want to see a deal,” British Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said after talks in Brussels with EU negotiator Michel Barnier. “The meeting overran, which signals we were getting into the detail.”
“There is a still a lot of work to do but there is a common purpose to secure a deal,” Barclay said, adding that Juncker and Johnson also both wanted a deal.
Leaving the EU would be Britain’s biggest shift in trade and foreign policy for more than 40 years and deprive the 28-nation bloc of one of its biggest economies. The EU has set a deadline for a deal to be reached by Oct. 31.
British parliament has rejected the deal May agreed with the EU. Johnson has said he wants to secure an amended deal at an EU summit on Oct. 17-18 but that Britain will leave the bloc if that is not possible. He will meet European Council Donald Tusk at the United Nations in New York next week.
Ireland is crucial to any Brexit solution. Unless the Irish border backstop is removed or amended, Johnson will not be able to win parliamentary approval but Ireland and the EU are unwilling to sign a deal without a solution to the border.
The EU fears a hard border could cause unrest in Northern Ireland and undermine the fragile peace provided by a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland, and the British security forces and pro-British “unionists.”
The Withdrawal Agreement that was agreed with the EU last November says the United Kingdom will remain in a customs union “unless and until” alternative arrangements are found to avoid the return of border controls in Ireland.
The British government, worried the backstop will trap it in the EU’s orbit for years to come, wants to remove it and find a solution before December 2020, when a planned transition period ends.
The British pound fell from a two-month high after the Financial Times reported Johnson had told colleagues he did not expect to reach a full “legally operable” deal next month.
One EU official said Britain’s proposals are not enough to replace the backstop.
“As it stands, it is unacceptable,” the official said. “If they don’t really change their approach, we are at an impasse.”
The European Commission said in a memo that Britain’s plans “fall short of satisfying all the objectives” of finding an alternative to the backstop, Sky News reported.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the mood music had improved and that both sides wanted a deal but that they were not close to an agreement.
“There is certainly a lot of commentary now and some of it is spin I think, in the context of where we are,” he told the BBC. “We need to be honest with people and say that we’re not close to that deal right now.”
“Everybody needs a dose of reality here, there is still quite a wide gap between what the British government have been talking about in terms of the solutions that they are proposing, and I think what Ireland and the EU will be able to support.”
Britain said on Thursday it had shared documents with Brussels setting out ideas for a Brexit deal, but an EU diplomat described them as a “smokescreen” that would not prevent a disorderly exit on the Oct. 31 departure date.
Coveney, Ireland’s second most powerful politician, said a no-deal could lead to civil unrest.
“Trade across 300 road crossings that has created a normality and a peace that is settled on the island of Ireland for the last 20 years, that now faces significant disruption,” he said. “That is what we’re fighting for here.