Mining & Energy
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Eleven illegal miners died between Tuesday and Thursday when walls collapsed on top of them in an informal ruby mine in Montepuez district, in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado.
The illegal mine had been dug in part of concession area of Montepuez Ruby Mining, which is 75 per cent owned by the British company Gemfields.
At a Maputo press conference on Thursday, the General Inspector of the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, Obete Matine, said the first fatal accident occurred on Tuesday. One man died in this collapse.
But, instead of abandoning the mine, the other miners went on digging. That same night, there was a second collapse and two more people died. Even this did not bring the mining operation to a halt, and on the night of Wednesday to Thursday, there were a further eight deaths.
Matine said this tragedy brings to 30 the number of people killed in mining accidents since the start of this year, including seven who died when an illegal gold mine collapsed in Manica province last week.
The Mozambican authorities are concerned at this loss of life, he said, and noted that most of the victims are young people used by gangs of smugglers to extract rubies and other precious stones.
“It is not possible”, Matine added, “for about 3,000 people to invade a mining area from one day to the next, unless somebody is financing this.”
Most of the illegal miners do not come from Montepuez district, or even from Cabo Delgado province. Matine said about 80 per cent of them have migrated from other provinces, particularly Nampula.
There are also foreigners involved – at least one Zimbabwean died in the Manica collapse, and one of the victims in Montepuez was a citizen of Guinea-Bissau. “This gives some insight into the internationalisation of this activity”, said Matine.
An international smuggling network was involved, he added, which could not be fought by the Ministry of Mineral Resources acting on its own. The work must also involve the National Immigration Service (SENAMI), the Ministry of the Interior, the public prosecutor’s office and the customs service.
Matine said a multi-sector team has been set up to crack down on illegal mining, which not only causes loss of life, but drains financial resources which ought to go to the state.
“We’re looking not just at the mining itself, but at the whole network of financing, the transporters and the whole range of people who may be involved in the contraband of precious stones”, he said.
Legitimate mining companies also bear some responsibility, Matine added, since it is their duty to guarantee safety throughout their concession areas.
Matine said the state is losing “billions of meticais” because of the activity of smugglers of previous metals and stones.
Illegal mining, he added, happens mostly during the rainy season when it is easier – but much more dangerous – to extract the stones.Source: AIM / Interlusofona / TVM
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