23 Sep 2011

PM assures Pike families recovery plan in place

10:06 am on 23 September 2011

The Prime Minister says he has assured Pike River families there is a plan in place to recover the bodies of their men from the West Coast mine - but that will happen only when it is safe.

John Key on Thursday met with the families of the 29 miners who died in explosions in the Pike River Coal mine in November last year. The company went into receivership in December.

Mr Key says a suggestion by Mines Rescue Service to go into an unventilated mine to carry out a recovery operation was overridden by the statutory mine manager on the grounds of safety.

He told the families the Government would want to see a credible recovery plan in place before it approved the transfer of the mine's licence if a sale goes ahead.

Mr Key says there is another plan to re-enter the mine and recover the bodies.

"There is a credible plan which is being peer reviewed by the statutory mine manager and signed off by the Department of Labour as a credible entry plan into the mine. I'm advised at this point that it is likely to take place before there is a sale."

Mr Key says he stands by his initial promise to do whatever he can to recover the bodies and will contact receiver John Fisk from PricewaterhouseCoopers and pass on the families' concerns.

The families' spokesperson, Bernie Monk, says they have received the assurance they have been wanting - that the recovery of the men's bodies is a priority of the Government.

The Prime Minister says the major shareholder in Pike River Coal, New Zealand Oil and Gas, estimates the cost of such an operation to be about $1 million and has told him it is in a position to cover that cost.

Family member not fully convinced

Carol Rose, whose son Stuart Mudge died in the mine, says she's worried loopholes may make it easy for any prospective buyer who finds it hard to access the mine to reneg on recovering the bodies.

Ms Rose, from the Pike River Families Committee, told Morning Report she asked the Prime Minster to tag the mining license, so it will not be transferred until the bodies are recovered.

This, she says, is quite different to the assurance that no transfer will be made until a plan to recover the bodies is in place.

She says it if was not possible to recover the bodies, the families and their lawyers should be brought in to discuss the whole thing.

Neville Rockhouse, whose son Ben died in the mine, said his interpretation is that if there is no recovery of the bodies there will be no transfer of the permit.

The Government has to sign off on the sale and at that time it will have the ability to put conditions on, he says.