Death toll rises to 28 in Freeport Indonesia mine accident

JAKARTA: The death toll from a tunnel collapse at the world’s second largest copper mine run by Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc’s Indonesian unit was raised to 28 on Wednesday as rescuers gave up hope of finding any more survivors.

Arizona-based Freeport closed the remote Papua mine on Wednesday last week, a day after a training tunnel away from its main operations fell in on 38 workers. Ten workers were rescued, but the search for the seven still listed as missing has now turned into an attempt the retrieve their bodies.

“We continue to grieve with the families even as we close this grim chapter,” Freeport Indonesia President Director Rozik Soetjipto said in a statement.

“There is still much to do for us to provide the best care and support for the injured and the families of the bereaved.”

Although Indonesia’s mining sector has a poor safety record, last week’s tunnel accident is one of the country’s worst-ever mining disasters, industry officials say.

Soetjipto said on Saturday that once the rescue efforts were finished the company would launch an investigation with the help of international experts and Indonesian government officials.

Freeport emergency response teams, who are working around the clock to try to recover the remains of the dead, have been hampered by narrow tunnels and loose rock at the site, Wednesday’s statement said.

It made no mention of the investigation or the current suspension of mining operations.

A union leader last week demanded that Freeport keep the mine closed while the cause of the accident was investigated.

The incident’s impact on global copper supply has so far been limited as the Grasberg mine keeps stockpiles in reserve in case of disruptions, but that would change if any investigation and closure drags on.