Freeport Death Toll Reaches 28 as Indonesia Reviews Mines

The death toll from a collapsed tunnel at Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc.’s Grasberg complex reached 28 as Indonesia said it would review all mining operations following one of its worst mining accidents.

The rescue team recovered the remaining bodies that were buried at the accident site of the world’s second-largest copper mine, Thamrin Sihite, director general of coal and minerals at the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry, told reporters today in Jakarta. Operations at the mine in Mimika, Papua province, about 3,120 kilometers (1,940 miles) east of Jakarta, will remain suspended until after an investigation is concluded, the government said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered related ministries to review safety at all mines in Indonesia, Sihite said earlier. Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport, which got 20 percent of its operating income from Indonesia last year, was still shipping material produced from the mine as of May 17, its local unit said last week.

Ten workers have been rescued from the site, Freeport said today.

The “Freeport accident is one of the worst mining accidents in Indonesia,” Sihite told reporters in Jakarta today. “I don’t want this to happen again.”

The death toll compares with 31 from a blast at a coal mine in Indonesia’s West Sumatra province in June 2009. Freeport Indonesia had no update on shipments, Daisy Primayanti, vice president of corporate communications, said today.

CEO Arrives

Freeport Chief Executive Officer Richard Adkerson, who arrived in Indonesia on May 18, has been visiting injured workers along with Freeport Indonesia President Director Rozik B. Soetjipto.

“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this event,” Adkerson said in a statement yesterday. “Our focus continues to be continuing efforts to gain access to the victims still buried at the accident, carried out as quickly as can be done safely.”

Indonesia generated $1.3 billion in operating income for Freeport last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Freeport owns 91 percent of the mine, which also produces gold, and Indonesia’s government holds the rest, according to the company’s website.

A government team has started an investigation into the accident, studying geological data, structure and maps, Sihite said. Once the evacuation process is finished, the team will check the site to determine the cause of the accident, he said.

“Grasberg mine operations including milling will be stopped until the investigation is concluded and Freeport has agreed to this,” Sihite said. The halt applies to underground and open-pit mining, he said. “Only maintenance works are allowed. We will investigate all operations.”

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