5 Sep 2007

Disaster feared at Fiji's Vatukoula gold mine

3:28 pm on 5 September 2007

Fiji's Vatukoula gold mine is feared to be at the centre of a developing environmental disaster.

The Department of the Environment has raised concerns that chemicals in the water in the underground shafts could cause harm to the local community.

The new owners of the mine, Westech Gold, has shut down operations in the area because it can not purchase fuel to power its generators which drive the pumps to keep water out of the mine shafts.

The company is unable to buy fuel because the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority has taken out an order freezing Westech's bank accounts because of alleged tax liabilities by the mine's previous owner amounting to 6-point-8 million US dollars.

However, the director of environment, Epeli Nasone, says it would be disastrous for the local community if water from the flooded shafts overflows on to the surface.

"If no management is done from them, it would actually reach into our rivers and even end up into our coastal areas, so it would be a major concern."

The director of environment in Fiji, Epeli Nasone.

A Westech engineer, John Pene, has confirmed that the Kayser, Phillips and Smiths shafts are now being flooded as the pumps keeping the water out are shut down.