Chinese miner in PNG likely to face environmental lawsuit

A spill into the bay earlier this year turned the sea red. Photo: Facebook/ Elisha Wesley Mizeu

Dateline Pacific | Radio New Zealand |  14 October 2019

The Madang provincial government in Papua New Guinea is likely to file a lawsuit against the owner of the Ramu nickel mine in coming weeks.

The mine, owned by Metallurgical Corp of China, or MCC, has been found to have mismanaged toxic waste it dumps into the sea.

Madang’s government engaged an oil spill response consultant from Sweden, Dr Alex Mojon to investigate contamination of local waters and fish species.

A report into the matter by PNG’s Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority is still pending. But, a lawyer working with Madang’s government, Ben Lomai, told Johnny Blades that Dr Mojon’s probe identified catastrophic impacts from mine waste on the marine environment.

Ben Lomai: Because there was some issues within the area that fish were dying, babies had deformed fingers and toes, a couple of people died within the area by eating fish, etc, etc. So they were trying to ascertain what was the cause? I mean, we obviously… with the report now from Alex, and also, we might be able to have this CEPA (Conservation and Environmental Protection Authority)  report coming in. All this will be confirmed and then compared and then Ramu / MCC will take a position on it, perhaps.

Johnny Blades: Should the mine operations be closed until this is sorted out?

Ben Lomai: Yeah, well, you know, there is very good evidence that so the court the only way is to have the mind closed for a period of time for have six months to remedy the situation, and then can get the mine open again, that’s what is done in Pujiang city in China. They passed a law that if you have not complied with the Waste Management (rules), they come in and shut the power down, tell you to do all these things and inspect, come and check, recommend that you have done it and then they come and put the power back on for you to work. It’s very, very strict. I don’t understand why they come here and they don’t do it here in this country.

Johnny Blades: Well this is a test, isn’t it, for Papua New Guinea’s environmental agencies and its courts?

Ben Lomai: Yeah I have actually briefed a QC in Sydney. I told him that look, I need another report to back up the case because the preliminary report is just showing some indication that yes, there’s some contamination but the second report is very solid, because it indicates the level of contamination is very high in toxicity in all 28 samples that were collected by Alex. And if we have the opinion that there was a cause for the environmental claim then we should be able to file it before the end of October.

Johnny Blades: What has MCC’s response been so far?

Ben Lomai: Well, MCC has not come back yet. They said they wanted to see the CEPA report, and then they can they can comment on it.

Johnny Blades: Is there a danger that there will be more more reports required, more assessments, and that it’ll drag on?

Ben Lomai: Yeah, absolutely. Because we need to really ascertain the actual contamination. We’ve got a report from Alex, and Alex is not doing it on his own. He’s got a team of environmental scientists and professors that are working with him. We welcome the MCC to also have its own environmental scientists to do their investigation. We also… by law, CEPA is obligated to produce a report and they should have done that a long time ago when the issue was raised. But anywhere they said the report is nearly completion. So we’ll wait for them to do that. At this stage, we’re not putting the blame on the MCC yet. We want to work with them in a friendly way so that we can resolve for the benefit of the people. That’s the approach that we’re taking. But if they are not cooperating, then perhaps we can be able to look at other options.

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Filed under Environmental impact, Papua New Guinea

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