Friday 2 August 2013

Chile closes inquiry into 2010 mine collapse.

On 5 August 2010 a cave in at the San Jose Mine in the Atacama Desert trapped 33 miners underground, leading to a 69 day rescue operation that culminated in the miners being evacuated from the mine through a borehole in a capsule specially designed by the Chilean Navy. The gold and copper mine, which comprises kilometers of winding passages with a single entrance 5 km from where the miners were trapped, had a poor safety record, with eight workers having lost their lives at the pit in the twelve years running up to the incident and a series of fines for breaches of health and safety regulations. After the rescue was completed public prosecutors in Chile began an inquiry into the incident, with a view to brining a criminal case against mine owners the  San Esteban Mining Company. This inquiry was closed on Thursday 1 August 2013, with the investigators concluding that there is insufficient evidence to bring a case against the company, despite the companies having failed to comply with a government order to build  secondary exit to the mine, and evidence having come to light that vital safety equipment was missing from the mine at the time of the incident, and that the companies managers had forged daily reports stating this was present.

The specially designed Fénix Capsule in which 33 miners trapped inside the San Jose mine in 2010 were rescued. Inside is rescue worker Patricio Sepúlveda, who is being lowered into the mine. 13 October 2010. Gobierno de Chile/Wikimedia Commons.

The closure of the case has brought condemnation from the former miners, as well as politicians and other public figures in Chile. Laurence Golborne, who was mining minister at the time of the incident, and who supervised the rescue operation personally, expressed disbelief at the verdict, stating that he felt the companies failure to comply with government orders on safety was a major contributor to the incident, and Isabel Allende, a popular writer, Chilean Senator and daughter of the late President Salvador Allende, described the closure of the inquiry as 'painful' and 'difficult to accept'.

The miners and their families are bringing a civil case against the Chilean National Service of Geology and Mining, which was responsible for inspecting the mine and which their lawyers claim should have been aware of the breeches in safety regulations prior to the mine collapse. The  San Esteban Mining Company has been ordered to reimburse a quarter of the US$22 million the Chilean Government spent on the rescue operation.

Diagrammatic representation of the area where the miners were trapped. Alberto Cervantes/Wall Street Journal.

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