Mon | Dec 11, 2023

Death toll climbs after illegal gold mine collapses in Suriname

Published:Tuesday | November 21, 2023 | 8:23 AM
The accident occurred at Rosebel, one of South America’s largest open-pit gold projects. - CMC photo.

PARAMARIBO, Suriname, CMC – The death toll from the collapse of an illegal gold mine at Rosebel in Suriname climbed to 14 on Tuesday after more bodies were recovered at the facility.

On Monday evening, President Chandrikapersad Santokhi, in a televised broadcast, said that 10 bodies had been pulled from the mine following the accident, which occurred at 3 p.m. (local time) and that the temporarily constructed tunnel “with a considerable depth” had buried a number of gold miners.

“As a government, we are shocked and offer our condolences to the relatives,” Santokhi said, adding “as a society and as a country, let us continue to pray for the repose of the souls of those who died, but also for the relatives. And we hope that as a country we never experience such incidents again”.

Santokhi said a “stricter and tighter” approach would be undertaken to prevent a re-occurrence of such a situation within the gold mining sector.

Santokhi said the accident happened in the gold concession of the Chinese-owned Zijing Mining, which acquired Rosebel Goldmines from IamGold earlier this year.

Rosebel is one of South America's largest open-pit gold projects.

However the presence of illegal gold miners is said to have created an unsafe situation in the area.

Santokhi said that at the request of Zijing Mining, a large number of illegal gold diggers were removed by the police and army a few weeks ago from the place where a large gold vein had been discovered. 

However, the group of illegal miners reportedly returned after a few days.

In a statement, Zijin/Rosebel Gold Mines (RGM) said it was saddened by the incident.

“Our sincere condolences go out to the families of those affected by this fatal incident. The safety and well-being of all individuals within our concession area remains RGM's utmost priority,” the company said.

“We have been in consultation with the Surinamese authorities for some time now, and we have repeatedly emphasised the dangers of illegal gold mining. We deeply regret that we have noticed an increasing trend in life-threatening practices of gold mining, especially in the Matawai area in recent months by porknokkers,” it added.

According to RGM, there were several efforts earlier this year to address the illegal mining in the area.

“In October, we already attempted to remove the pork knuckles from the area by submitting an official eviction request to the government authorities, which was subsequently honoured. Nevertheless, the same group of porknokkers has resettled in the area in question, despite earlier police action to remove them. This unfortunately resulted in the tragic incident that occurred on Monday.”

The company said discussions to develop appropriate measures and effective solutions to this problem had been held with Vice President Ronnie Brunswijk on Monday morning.

“Unfortunately, shortly after this important meeting, we received disturbing news of a tunnel collapse in the Matawai area. This tragic incident serves as a poignant reminder of the inherent risks and dangers of participating in irresponsible gold mining,” RGM stated.

Due to its lucrative income, the gold industry in Suriname has grown enormously in recent years.

Small-scale gold mining is unregulated and a large part of the activities take place in areas in the interior of Suriname where there is high unemployment.

The sector reportedly employs between 20,000 and 30,000 people, many of whom work in illegal gold operations.

The government has been moving to organise the small-scale gold sector for years, but no concrete actions have been taken so far.

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