Miners warned about illegal operations before fatal cave-in

The four Brazilian miners who were killed when a pit caved in at Arau Backdam, Eteringbang have been confirmed as “illegal” and Natural Resources Minister Robert Persaud yesterday said the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) had warned about illegal operations in the area just three weeks before the tragedy.

On Thursday afternoon, Taigo Nunes Pinto, Ronaldo Da Silva Sousa, Joao Nelson Pinto Mands and Joao Gonsalves Martin died when the cave they were working in caved in. Another miner, Jose Roberto Diaz, who was injured, was flown out of the area on Friday and he was being treated by a private city hospital up to Sunday evening.

The GGMC has since dispatched a team to conduct an investigation.

At a press conference yesterday, Persaud said that since Arau is an Amerindian village, the GGMC does not have an authority in the area; rather, mining operations fall under the purview of the village council. Nevertheless, it was his hope that villages are equipped with the proper tools and training mechanisms to effectively monitor mining operations.

Persaud stated that health and safety and ensuring that legal operations are set up and that the necessary permits were sought out by all persons inclined to set up an operation were the major issues with monitoring the sector.

He noted that he was disappointed that the four illegal Brazilians “did not see fit to have their status recognised”. The minister said that in the light of incidents that have occurred in the past, the ministry has submitted a proposal that would see a special mining permit granted for titled Amerindian lands.

Persaud noted that this proposal was in the beginning stages as any development would have to happen with all stakeholders being on board, including the Toshaos Council.

Persaud noted that the deaths of the foul illegal miners shed light to the various deficiencies in health and safety within the sector and that the “aim is to reduce deaths and eliminate them all together,” which is why monitoring had to be a more effectively used tool.

He said that many small time operations do not have the correct equipment and sometimes “induced failures” would occur. He explained that miners would dig deep and allow the top to cave in and then pump out the hole.

GGMC Commissioner Rickford Vieira stated that these types of operations were common although regulations are in place to cater for soil type and elevation, among other things. Vieira added that while safety precautions were given to all miners with a permit, unfortunately many dredge owners would hire illegals and they would not be privy to the regulation.

The dredge owner, Wendy Barbosa, he said, would face multiple changes. He did not say what would most likely be the outcome only noting that she would have to pay fines.

This case is the fourth cave collapse which has resulted in loss of life for the year. Vieira said that with mining operations scattered throughout the country, monitoring is difficult. He added that although the GGMC goes into areas and can give cease orders, after the authorities leave it is a just a matter of time before illegal activity restarts. Added to that, he noted that the sector is filled with miners who are looking for the cheapest ways to do business.

Safety in the mining sector is largely unregulated due to the expansiveness of the industry and the limited resources of the GGMC, the Natural Resources Ministry and the Home Affairs Ministry. While Guyana has a long history of porkknockers, the goal is to effectively regulate a sector which needs to ensure that medium to large-scale operations take into consideration safety procedures. The ministry will continue with Operation El Dorado, an initiative to curb illegal mining. Last April, the campaign captured 94 illegal miners and found over 32 local miners in breach of the mining regulations.

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