Sealing of Pike River mine will be stopped

The Government has changed tack on Pike River re-entry, citing new robot technology that will make it safer to go into the mine, and will stop the sealing of the mine.

Stuff: Sealing of Pike River mine will be stopped, says Bill English

Pike River families have been told the sealing of the mine will be stopped following a meeting with Prime Minister Bill English, with Solid Energy asked to look into new technology which could allow unmanned entry.

Family members of the Pike River miners met English for the first time in an attempt to stop the sealing of the mine, and emerged afterwards with cautious optimism about the options on the table.

Some family members of Pike River victims have been campaigning for re-entry, some haven’t.

Bernie Monk, spokesman for some of the Pike River families, said the meeting was “very positive”.

“We’ve got another step forward for us…I think they got a lot of understanding about the ins and outs, because it’s not easy for them to understand what we’ve been through over the last six years.”

Monk said English’s promise to stop the sealing of the mine would allow the group to end its picket at Pike River, which had been going on 24 hours a day for 13 weeks.

Forster said English had stated the Government’s continued opposition to any humans re-entering the drift, but shared a a “clear expectation” that non-manned technology, such as aerial drones, should be considered as an option.

‘Aerial drones’ in a mine sounds funny but they could be flown up the shaft.

English said a decision to re-enter the mine was “not about politics, it is about safety”.

In an election year with families pushing hard and parties, particularly Labour and NZ First, making a political issue out of it, then it’s hard to separate some of the politics.

“We lost 29 lives in that mine and I will not risk losing any more.”

The families’ proposal for re-entering Pike River did not include a detailed plan, “and therefore does not make the case for a safe re-entry”, he said.

However, he would ask Solid Energy to stop work on the mine’s permanent seal and explore options for unmanned entry, after the Government was approached in recent weeks by experts with new proposals.

“The families’ technical advisor agreed that there has been significant advancements in technology since the tragedy occurred six years ago.

“We will ask Solid Energy to explore those options. We will also keep the families informed and allow their technical input into the search for options for unmanned entry.”

The Government would give Solid Energy money to look into the unmanned options, English said.

If drones are used they could look but it’s unlikely they could remove bodies.

Several robot vehicles have already been sent into the mine and have failed (broken down).

Labour leader Andrew Little said stopping the sealing of the mine was “the right thing at this stage”, but questioned why the Government continued to rule out a physical re-entry.

“We’ve got to keep the pressure up…because it must still be possible to get in there and see what remains are in there.”

There is one thing worse than not doing anything about re-entry in election year and that would be sending people into the mine and losing more lives.

Little versus Peters on Pike River

Winston Peters has kicked off his political year by picking up on his Pike River posturing, but criticism of Labour has prompted a retort from Andrew Little.

NZ Herald: Little: Peters’ Pike River re-entry comments ‘cheap’

Peters said his party believed in a report that said there is no technical mining reason that re-entry could not be achieved safely.

“We believe your report and believe that a party should be allowed to enter the drift to look for your men,” Peters told the meeting.

“And to all those who say we’re not serious on this promise we say, our party will make re-entry into Pike River a bottom line at the next election.”

That’s a repeat of what he said late last year.

The Paroa Hotel is owned by Bernie Monk, whose son Michael died in the mine. Monk said a crowd of more than 100 gathered to hear from the NZ First leader.

“He was overwhelmingly applauded by the people here today … he is the first politician that has really stood beside us and made his feelings known.”

This comment grated with Labour supporter Anne at The Standard:

Well, that’s a bit rich coming from Bernie Monk. Either he’s showing a political bias or he has a poor memory. Andrew Little (starting before he became leader) spent many hours/days/weeks over time talking with… comforting… trying to do everything he could to get the men back into the mine. I recall question after question after question in the debating chamber. He has never given up.

But of course Andrew doesn’t use his personal support for political gain. He just gets on with what he knows should be done. How many hours/days/weeks has Winston spent on the West Coast trying to help the victims of the tragedy?

Peters had a specific dig at Labour:

Little has promised that a Labour Government would get an independent assessment of the mine and re-enter it if it was declared safe.

Peters told the meeting that promise was “weak and disingenuous”.

“It means, ‘sometime never’. You already have a thoroughly professional report from world leading experts in this field. How many more reports do the authorities need before they can say ‘Go in’? What more proof could they possibly want?”

Andrew Little took issue with Peters’ comments.

“One thing I am never going to be challenged by Winston on is my commitment to Pike River. And the difference between me and Winston Peters is I wasn’t sitting in a Cabinet in the 1990s that undermined our health and safety regulations in mine regulations, specifically,” Little told the Herald.

“This is a serious issue. Put aside the, I thought, cheap call about Winston leading a team in there – that is disrespectful to the mines rescue folks and others who are experts – you do want the best possible decision to be made.”

Peters and Labour seem to be intractably at odds over Pike River re-entry.

Peters wants to go with the report obtained by (some of the) Pike River victims’ families and says NZ First “will make re-entry into Pike River a bottom line at the next election”.

Little wants an independent assessment, which seems sensible. But presuming such an assessment isn’t done before the election that would appear to make a coalition agreement between Labour and NZ First impossible – unless either Little or Peters change their stance.

While Monk and some of the Pike River families are trying to talk re-entry of the mine up into an election issue I’m not sure that the wider public vote will define the election by it.

But the political posturing could define the next government, which based on the stated positions of National and Labour versus NZ First that would leave NZ First out of any coalition.