New Zealand Coal Mine Blast Traps 27 Miners Underground

November 19, 2010

An explosion rocked a remote colliery in New Zealand on Friday, trapping 27 miners underground, the company and local authorities said.

The new mine, which only began shipping coal this year, is dug into the side of a mountain range in the country’s rugged South Island, burrowing into a deposit that, according to one recent visitor, was relatively gaseous.

Peter Whittall, chief executive of the mine’s owner, Pike River Coal, said he believed 27 miners were trapped.

Police said emergency services were still trying to clarify the situation at the mine, in an area so mountainous that mobile-phone service is patchy.

The mine extends more than two km into a mountain range. It produces hard coking coal used in the steel industry and has been increasing production after a series of technical problems delayed its development.

The Greymouth district’s deputy mayor, Doug Truman, told Reuters by phone he had visited the mine and understood the coal deposit to be gaseous, but he stressed the safety standards there were very high and the workers highly trained.

“It’s a very high-quality coal but it’s gaseous — but they know that,” Truman said.

The company is around 30 percent owned by NZ Oil and Gas Ltd with two Indian companies — Gujarat NRE and Saurashtra Fuels — as substantial minority shareholders.

The last major coal mining disaster in New Zealand was in 1967 when 19 miners were killed in an explosion at a coal mine in the same part of the country, a major coal-producing region.

(Additional reporting by Mark Bendeich in Sydney; Editing by Nick Macfie

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