Pike mine reparation 'a moral obligation'

A spokesman for some of the families of the men killed in the Pike River mine disaster says New Zealand Oil and Gas has a moral if not a legal obligation to pay reparation to the families.

NZOG shareholders yesterday voted not to pay them reparation of $3.41 million, which was awarded by Judge Jane Farish in July after Pike River Coal Ltd - of which NZOG is a major shareholder - was convicted over health and safety failings that led to the deaths of 29 men in the November 2010 disaster.

During the case in Greymouth District Court it was revealed there was only $156,000 left from a $2m insurance payment to Pike River Coal Ltd, which is now in receivership.

Judge Farish said that despite of the company's parlous financial state, she hoped the directors or shareholders might contribute.

She said it was "morally unjust"the way Pike River had been able to fold soon after the disaster and escape having to pay anything towards the families' welfare.

Bernie Monk, whose son Michael was one of the 29 miners who died , said today the company had been happy to take millions of dollars out of the West Coast when things were good, but it just walked away when it suited them.

"If companies like Oil and Gas want to do this, well, God help New Zealand," Mr Monk told Radio New Zealand.

"They've done only what they had to do but this was a moral right to put money into Pike River. They didn't mind investing in them at the time and taking what profits came from it but if something goes like this they just run a mile and I just can't believe it."

He said legislation needed to change so companies could not get out of paying reparation.

"These multimillion-dollar companies are accountable for the deaths. If some of these blokes making calls had people underground I don't think they'd be doing the same thing."

NZOG chief executive Andrew Knight told Radio New Zealand the company had already done enough.

"If you look at what we've done, New Zealand Oil and Gas stepped up and put $25 million into Pike River post the explosion and that's gone in in a variety of ways.

"We believe we've done the right thing and I think that's what out shareholders are telling us."

At the NZOG annual meeting yesterday, a second motion, put by an individual shareholder, was also lost.

It read: "Shareholders express their dissatisfaction with the way in which the directors managed the company's investment in Pike River Coal Ltd and the company's response after the explosion in November 2010."

- APNZ and Greymouth Star staff

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