Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Government concerned about Rutile disaster

By Mohamed Massaquoi and Kevin Hill

Minister of Mineral Resources Tuesday said President Ernest Bai Koroma has met with ministers, senior officers at the ministry of Mineral Resources and the management of Sierra Rutile Mining Company to communicate his concern for the recovery of the two missing workers and the maintenance of the company’s workforce.

Minister Alhaji Abu Bakarr Jalloh recently returned from Rutile as part of a ministerial team to get first-hand information on the accident. The team was accompanied by the factory inspectorate group from the Ministry of Labor to investigate the industrial accident.

“As a government we are (also) concerned whether there will be loss of revenue for government, or entrenchment leading to unemployment. The next steps for government will be based on the results of the investigation. They will make recommendations and we will listen to them”, said Minister Jalloh.

Minister Jalloh told Concord Times that the Deputy General Manager of the company, Sahr Wonday, was in charge of the dredge on the fateful day. 29 people were taken to the Bo Government Hospital, but nobody could tell them the cause of the accident. 51 people were onboard the dredge and up to this moment two people are still missing. He said that the death toll could have been higher had the dredge fallen in a different direction.

Government investigators, as well as insurance company investigators, are also at the accident site to uncover details that might shed light on the events that led to the accident, as well as if any fault can be determined.

Abu Brima, Executive Director of the Network Movement for Justice and Democracy, referred to the incident as “unfortunate” adding that the company was not serious about enforcing international standards for mining activities at Rutile, because there would have been some “early warning signs” in advance of the accident.

Mr. Brima believes that because the dredge was launched by the president himself, the company must ensure that they have engineers to monitor the machines on a daily basis. “The government has been so careless to ensure that the right thing is done,” he said.

The Campaign for Just Mining has sent a group of investigators to the scene to try and determine the cause of the accident. The group will work in conjunction with the community task force to uncover the facts.

One ‘early warning sign’, according to the paramount chief for Imperi chiefdom, Bonthe district, was a traditional warning given by the community in advance of the Sierra Rutile dredge disaster.

PC Hawa Kpanbom explained that a day before the incident occurred, Deputy General Manager Sahr Wonday was approached by a teenaged girl who told him that the dredge would drown the next day. But he drove off without taking the warning seriously. According the paramount chief, workers saw a large black snake which they attempted to stone. The spot at which the snake disappeared was the very spot at which the dredge capsized.

She said that before the commissioning of the ‘Solondo’ dredge, company officials would not allow for traditional ceremonies to appease the ancestors of the area. She said that this lack of respect for the community may have been one of the reasons for the disaster.

PC Kpanabom said that the whole community is worried about the incident as up until this moment two of the workers are still missing and presumed dead.

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