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Court to issue Pike fine to VLI today

VLI Drilling could be fined up to $NZ750,000 in court sentencing this morning, charged with failure to ensure its mine operator client adhered to equipment maintenance and safety checks prior to New Zealand’s 2010 Pike River mine explosion that killed 29 miners.

Lou Caruana
Court to issue Pike fine to VLI today

In the Greymouth District Court, VLI pleaded guilty in August this year to three charges relating to its LMC75 drill rig contract with Pike River Coal.

Meanwhile, former PRC chief executive Peter Whittall yesterday pleaded not guilty to failures of methane explosion management, ventilation management, strata management and mitigating the risk and impact of an explosion.

Whittall could be fined $250,000 for each of his 12 charges, meaning he could be up for $3 million if found guilty.

In a statement, VLI said charges brought against it by the NZ Department of Labour related to breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 but did not relate specifically to the Pike River mine disaster.

“The charges relate instead to our failure to have a procedure in place to verify that Pike River Coal had conducted its inspections of our drill rig, so that – if these had not been conducted – our rig was not operated,” it said.

DoL’s summary of charges states: “It is not known if the drill rig was operating at the time of the explosion, nor if the power supply to the drill rig was in place.”

VLI supplied specialist drilling services to PRC at the Pike River mine.

PRC was to conduct regular inspections of VLI’s drill rig as part of its mine safety management responsibilities.

“This is the standard arrangement with mines in which we provide specialist drilling services, including in Queensland,” VLI said.

“In hindsight, our reliance on PRC’s processes alone is regretted.

“Our admission to the charges is intended to acknowledge that we could have done more to monitor PRC’s inspections of our equipment.

“Our thoughts remain with the families and friends of all the victims of the Pike River mine disaster.”

PRC (in receivership) has been remanded until October 26, 2012 for formal proof by the ministry of nine charges.

The receivers have indicated they will be taking no further part in the legal process.

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