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News Release

Environmental Disaster at Misima Mines Continues... Misima Landowners in Port Moresby to Seek Justice

MEDIA RELEASE: 22 September 2004

Siung Landowners Association and Misima Towho Siung Association

Landowners from Misima mine have travelled to the nation's capital in Port Moresby to meet with the Prime Minister, Michael Somare, and seek confirmation of a strong and just response from the government for the recent cyanide spill that lead to fish kills on the island, and to other environmental and social issues that threaten their livelihood on the small island. The destructive legacy of the mine is so great, and Placer Dome's response to these issues so inadequate, that the governor of Milne Bay Province refused to sign off on the mine closure plan earlier this year.

Landowners believe the cyanide spill reflects a careless neglect for their interests that characterizes the company's activities over the life of the mine, and now extends into mine closure. While rivers, gardens and oceans are already devastated by the mine, and coral fringing reefs off the island are completely destroyed, the company plans to walk away.

Landowners' own perceptions have shown that the spill has had a much greater impact on the marine environment than has been reported by the company. The company has only reported the death of 35 fish but dead fish continue to wash up on and around the island. A whale was also reported washed up on shore near the tailings outfall after the event.

"We have ongoing reports coming in since the spill on the 7th of August about fish that have been killed. Men and women use saltwater for many things, for cooking and washing. The currents travel to the outer islands and we have had reports from the outer islands of turtles, shark and yellow fin tuna and flying fish and sardines died. People are scared of handling the dead fish for fear of poisoning, and do not know what is OK. People are scared of using the salt water and the marine life, and they are very scared of what the mine has done to our oceans through ocean dumping (submarine tailings disposal.). The company is telling us everything is OK, but still people do not feel they can trust the company and are fearful to fish or swim in the ocean, least they are poisoned. We don't have the information to check what the company is telling us," stated Stanley Niga, chairman of the MTSA landowner association.

When Misima Mines held a meeting at Gibobo village, near the place of the spill, the people, who have lost trust in the mine, said they would not believe that their ocean was OK until an independent investigation took place.

"The mining companies involved have shown us time and again in Wau, Bulolo, Bougainville, Ok Tedi, Tolokuma, Pogera and Misima that we cannot trust them to look after our interests and that they are only here to reap our resources. We don't know what these tailings and rocks they dump offshore and now this latest spill in our oceans will do, but we need an independent investigation to get to the truth and extent of the matter. The company and the government do not tell us all that we need to know to make sure our interests are protected," stated Stanley Nigu, Chairman of the MTSA, the landowner group that signed the 1990 MOA.

The landowners have also written through their lawyers to the Minister for Environment and Conservation of the PNG Government to have the company charged with negligence. The delegation in Port Moresby today is seeking to follow up with the government and gain assurances that they will take appropriate actions in the interests of the people. Placer Dome through Misima Ltd operated a gold project on landowners' customary land until 2004.

BRIEF INFO ON THE CYANIDE SITUATION NOW

The company has given small numbers of people in the affected communities an amount totalling 22,856 K, the equivalent of less than 10,000 Australian dollars as total compensation for the incident. The amount, when divided amongst the people represent 1.92 K or less than one Australian dollar per person affected by the spill. The population of Misima Island relies significantly on the marine resources for livelihood and as a food source, and people are now scared to fish. Damages were recorded to communities at Misima and other islands.

"This offering of compensation is worse than a joke and insults the dignity of the people of Misima Island," stated Camillus Narokobi, of Narokobi Lawyers, who represents the landowners. "In 1990 the people were given hope and promises and have lived with the consequential problems created by this mine while keeping their side of the understanding by not interfering with the mine's activities. The company has failed to uphold its side of the agreement."

There was unanimous support at a public meeting held on the island a couple of weeks after the spill for an independent investigation to be carried out regarding the environmental damages and likely impacts caused by the mine, including this most recent incident. People attending the meeting expressed widespread lack of confident over the company and government management of the environmental impacts of the mine as agreed in the 1990 Agreements.

The landowners have not yet been provided with all the relevant information on the incident and the company representatives left a meeting where the landowners outline their requests and concerns before the meeting had finished and without resolving any of their concerns including the appropriateness of the compensation levels. Landowners believe dead marine life has been confiscated by the company officials and burnt or destroyed to eliminate independent studies.

The company is in the process of decommissioning the mine and there are wide spread concerns over the legacy of environmental damage that they will leave to the vulnerable small island population. Sentiments amongst the population are that they have been taken advantage of by the company and to some extent the Mining Department of PNG Government and that their interests and rights under the 1990 MOAs have not been honoured.

The mining company has been advised to stop work (deconstruction of the mill) until further notice from the Department of Environment and Conservation.

In light of these issues, landowners call upon the company to:

  1. Liase with the people's elected representative in the local level government and landowner's associations (the landowners) who have signed the original agreements for the mine to proceed rather than exclusively with landowner groups set up by their own company employees.

  2. Provide the landowners with copies of all environmental studies undertaken that evaluate the environmental impact of the mine on their rivers and oceans

  3. Commit to proper compensation for the damages that have occurred now and are likely to occur in the future

  4. Open negotiations with landowner representatives to ensure that all rights, benefits and responsibilities under the original 1990 MOA's and agreements are fulfilled, including its commitment to "leave nothing damaged' and that any derivations from these agreements are consented to by the aforementioned landowner associations

  5. To fund an independent transparent audit and review by consultants agreed upon by the aforementioned landowner representatives and commit to addressing identified flaws and gaps in risk management of mine closure program.

Landowners humbly call upon National Government, and specifically the Department of Environment and Conservation and Department of Mining to:

a) Support their demands against the company for just compensation and fulfilment of the original agreements.

b) Ensure work at the mine does not resume until

  • their report of the investigations of the incident has been made available and reviewed to the satisfaction of the landowners,
  • measures to the satisfaction of the landowners have been addressed as to prevention of any further chemical discharges into the environment

  • the company has committed to fund an independent review of the mine closure plan and ongoing environmental impacts of the mine

c) Release to the landowners all reports they have regarding the environmental impacts of the mine and particularly the dumping of tailings into our precious oceans

d) Commit to an independent inquiry by persons agreed upon by the government and landowners to report on the events leading up to the cyanide spill.

e) Charge Misima Mines Ltd for recklessness and negligence in contaminating our environment, order them to pay just and fair compensation to the landowners and fine the company pursuant to the maximum amount under the laws of Papua New Guinea. This money is due as a result of impacts suffered by the people of Misima, and this money must be used to ensure that environmental issues with the mine are addressed and that the landowner's interests have been protected once the mine has closed, so finally the landowners ask the government to:

f) Allocate any money from the fine towards consultants chosen by the landowners engaged in an independent review and follow up of the environmental impacts of then mine on their rivers and oceans and the acceptability of the overall mine closure plan.

Media Enquires

Stanley Niga, Chairman of MSTA and Ebia Kasaiwabi, spokesperson for Siung Association tel (675) 684 2424, or (675) 643 7113 and Joe Broome, President Louisiade Rural Local Level Government (675) 643 7111

Siung Landowners Association represents the principal landowners whose land was utilized by the Misima mine

MTSA represents landowners and villages within the Special Mine Lease area of the Misima Mine