Mining operations at Papua New Guinea’s Ok Tedi copper mine were suspended following the death of a worker from a rock fall. The accident occurred on March 10, just two weeks after operations recommenced following a nine month shutdown owing to dry conditions.

Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) has blamed the section of rock and dirt falling into sump at the bottom of the pit on the effects of the drought.

An OTML statement issued on March 11 said: “Unfortunately one of our colleagues, who was attending to pit drainage, was unable to get clear of the flowing debris. As a mark of respect for a lost workmate, operations across the company have been suspended until further notice.”

Another statement issued on March 14 said: “Following the tragic incident at the Ok Tedi mine on Thursday, March 10, efforts have focused on the safe recovery of our lost colleague. Unfortunately these efforts have been hampered by ongoing rain and continuing instability in the area where the rock fall occurred. The safety of the recovery team remains the highest priority in recovery efforts. Specialised equipment is being brought to site to aid the continuing search.

“Following a preliminary inspection by mine inspectors, work recommenced today in all areas of the mine other than the Centre Pit where the incident occurred. Work in the Centre Pit is limited to recovery efforts and drainage works, under strict access conditions. Work in all other areas of the business resumed on Saturday, March 11.”

OTML declared force majeure on its sales contracts from the country’s largest copper operation on August 17, 2015, due to the drought and said at the time that it expected to lose 65,000 tonnes of copper in concentrate. The El Nino induced drought cut transport links to the site and also disrupted production across a wide range of commodity producers in PNG.

Following statutory safety approval from the PNG Mineral Resources Authority, OTML recommenced operations on March 1 and in a statement issued on March 10, before the rock fall, said that the first cargo of 10,000 dry metric tonnes of copper concentrate had been produced and was being assembled on the silo vessel, the Kumul Arrow, anchored in Port Moresby.

In the statement OTML managing director and CEO Peter Graham said: “OTML operations are off to a very encouraging start following the return of employees from a seven month suspension due to dry weather. The work completed on major projects during the temporary shutdown has positioned us very well.”

The statement said: “The company also confirmed that following heavy rains during recent weeks the water level in the Fly River is now sufficient to sustain ship traffic.

“With the installation and commissioning of the new replacement SAG Mill shell expected to be complete in about a week, Ok Tedi will then return to full scale production.”