Multinational diamond miner Koidu Limited is under pressure to explain the fate of some 53 miners who, according to civil society, were allegedly trapped underground after a landslide at one of the company’s mining pits.
Ibrahim Sahr Ahmed Bockarie, Chairman of the civil society organization Campaign for Just Mining (CJM), made the claim and added that the incident which reportedly occurred on May 26 left some miners injured.
But it’s the extent of the casualty that has become a bone of contention. Koidu Limited said only two people were affected, while CJM insisted that the casualty figure was far more than admitted by the company.
In a press release dated May 26, 2016, the company stated that only two of their operators sustained minor injuries on their bodies after what it referred to as “Seismic tremor” of the earth that had occurred at around 14hours on that day. The statement said “approximately 25 employees” of the company were trapped and that they were all rescued within the same day of the incident.
Bockarie, who is based in Kono, said that the miners were working right inside the pit when the landslide occurred. He claimed that two operators were badly injured and dozens others went into coma.
As mining rights advocates, he said, they were concerned and left in suspension over the credibility of the press release of the company. Bockarie lamented that the company had denied civil society organizations and journalists access into the mining concession to independently verify their claims on the level of destruction.
Koidu Limited, which was formerly called OCTEA mining, is the largest diamond mining company in the country. This incident is reported to have occurred at a place called Pipe One.
The company described it as a “Seismic tremor”, playing down suggestion that it was a landslide. It described “Seismic Tremor” in its press release as “the natural shifting of the earth’s tectonic plates, which can result in a sudden release of energy within the earth, with an effect similar to an earthquake.” In the release, Koidu Limited announced that it had indefinitely ceased all mining operations at Pipe One until further notice.
Last week’s landslide is the second of its kind at the same mining pit, after a similar incident in 2012. Back then the company was operating under Koidu Holdings. At the time it also denied that it was a landslide.
CJM said the vibration of this latest incident was felt over a three-mile radius from the concession site of the mining company. The civil society organization said it occurred within 17 hours of a heavy ‘blasting exercise’, and therefore felt the two must have a link.
Koidu Limited engages in a kimberlite mining system which involves blasting of rocks from which the diamonds are extracted. This blasting is done with the use of dynamite. And the communities near the concession area of the company have repeatedly complained of the effect of this on their houses and even in terms of the noise pollution.
In 2012, during a well attended town hall meeting at the Tankoro Native Administrative Barray in Koidu, the host Paramount Chief of Koidu Limited in Tankoro Chiefdom, PC Paul Ngabba Saquee V urged the company to endeavor to “reduce the volume and frequency of blasting of stones” within the town. This was in response to several complaints against the company by the general public.
CJM’s Bockarie insisted that the recent incident was caused by the blasting which had apparently weakened the retention wall of the mining pit which is believed to be over 700 inches deep. He entreated the company to set up an independent body to investigate the incident.
Arnold Warren Nottige, District Manager of the National Minerals Agency, which regulates mining activities in the country, confirmed on a telephone interview that the incident had been reported to him by the company. He however declined to comment in details until investigations have been conducted.
“I can’t give an independent report on the incident at the moment because it happened while I was on an official assignment outside the district,” he said, adding that he’d planned to mount an investigation on it shortly. Koidu Limited declined to comment beyond the press release it issues on the matter