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Cablegate: Mine Mishap Overcome, but Safety Still a Chronic

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ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 051613Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY PRETORIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2176
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 0181
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0555
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RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 0676
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RUCPDC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHDC
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC

UNCLAS PRETORIA 003534

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE PLEASE PASS USAID
STATE PLEASE PASS USGS
STATE FOR AF/S, EEB/ESC, EEB CBA
DOE FOR SPERL, PERSON
DOC FOR ITA/DIEMOND

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EMIN ENRG EINV EIND ETRD SF
SUBJECT: MINE MISHAP OVERCOME, BUT SAFETY STILL A CHRONIC
ISSUE


1. SUMMARY: On October 4, South African Harmony's Elandsrand
mine rescued 3,200 workers who had been trapped underground
for 48 hours. While the workers were not in great danger,
the dramatic rescue, filmed in the international media,
high-lighted growing concerns about mine safety as high
commodity prices lure mining companies to mine deeper and
reopen old mines. The SAG called for a mining industry-wide
assessment of safety risk. End Summary.

2. On October 3, a 15-meter compressed air pipe broke off
and fell to the bottom of the main shaft at South African
Harmony Gold Mining Company's Elandsrand mine, severing
electrical connections and trapping 3,200 workers for 48
hours two kilometers underground. By reconfiguring a reserve
ventilator and equipment shaft, Harmony was able to rescue
all the workers by the night of October 4. Safety
regulations require mines to have a second shaft for this
kind of emergency. National Union of Mineworker
representatives called this a "wake-up call" for mine safety
and announced consideration of an industry-wide strike. The
SAG closed the Elandsrand mine pending an investigation and
called for a mining industry-wide assessment of safety risk.

3. COMMENT: Industry observers stated that the workers were
never seriously at risk, but the incident dramaticized
concerns about mine safety in South Africa. South Africa
reported over 200 fatalities last year, compared to 67 in the
U.S. Four workers were killed in a rock fall at one of
AngloGold Ashanti's mines earlier in the week. Harmony is
emblematic of mining companies which have responded to rising
commodity prices by opening old mines and mining more deeply,
taking on greater safety risk. Some companies, like
Anglo-American, have rejected the old perception that
fatalities were an inevitable cost of business, and have
pressured management to place higher priority on mine safety.
Harmony is perceived as an agressive company that exploits
mature mines and cuts costs. Harmony was also criticized for
delays in the public announcement of the mishap.
Bost

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