Indonesian mine disaster toll rises to 17

A tunnel collapse at an Indonesian copper-gold mine owned by US miner Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc (FCX) has so far resulted in the death of 17 miners, while another 11 are believed still buried under the rubble.

The tunnel cave in took place last Tuesday in the Big Gossan underground mine in the prolific Grasberg mineral district in Mimika, Papua province on the western half of the island of New Guinea. 38 workers were in a classroom attending safety training in an underground facility at the time of the accident, 10 of which have been rescued so far.

The company's president and chief executive officer Richard Adkerson who arrived in the country visited the site and families of the victims.

 ''I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this event. Our focus continues to be continuing efforts to gain access to the victims still buried at the accident, carried out as quickly as can be done safely,'' Adkerson said.

The government said that that tunnel collapse followed a landslide.

The government would seek to improve mining safety procedures, Indonesia's coordinating minister for the economy Hatta Rajasa said.

 ''A government team will conduct an investigation and after they're finished, we will see what needs to be done. This can be used as a lesson on how we can strengthen the safety of underground mining,'' the minister said.

Mining operations at the Grasberg mining complex has been suspended following the accident. The company said that the accident was expected to have no significant impact on its operations.

Shipment of concentrate is continuing with the built-up stock.

The Grasberg mining complex, located about 3,120 km east of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, is  the world's second-largest copper mining operation after BHP Billiton Ltd's Escondida mine in Chile.

The mining complex, which includes open pit and underground mines, is operated by PT Freeport Indonesia, a company 90.6 per cent owned by FCX and the balance by the government of Indonesia.

 Phoenix, Arizona-based FCX is a leading international mining company with significant reserves of copper, gold and molybdenum. The company's main assets include the Grasberg mining complex in Indonesia which contains one of the world's largest recoverable copper and gold reserves.

The company has significant mining operations in North and South America as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo. FCX is also the world's largest producer of molybdenum and a significant gold producer.

 It has a global workforce of approximately 34,000 employees.

The Indonesian unit PT Freeport Indonesia commenced mining operations in 1972.

 Separately, FCX is reinforcing its efforts to expand into energy sector through its proposed acquisition of Plains Exploration and Production Co, a Houston-based oil and gas company for approximately $6 billion.

In a latest development, Plain Exploration's shareholders yesterday approved the takeover proposal that was sweetened by FCX by announcing two special dividends amounting $470 million payable to Plain Exploration shareholders just hours before the shareholders' meeting.