14 informal miners killed in Suriname tunnel collapse

(Reuters) Fourteen informal gold miners were killed in a tunnel collapse in Suriname on Monday afternoon on a concession belonging to a subsidiary of Chinese state miner Zijin Mining, a Surinamese official said.

Fellow miners had recovered most of the bodies by the time government rescue teams arrived at the site in the country’s south, Jerry Slijngard of the Disaster Management Coordination Centre told local Radio ABC Suriname on Tuesday morning.

A French search and rescue team will assist in recovering more potential casualties, he added.

President Chan Santokhi on Monday announced a moment of national mourning over the deaths.

Rosebel Gold Mines, the subsidiary purchased by Zijin in February, said in a statement on Monday it regretted the deaths and had tried to remove informal miners, known locally as porknokkers, with an eviction order, but they had returned.

“We have been in discussions with the Surinamese authorities for quite some time, during which we have repeatedly emphasized the dangers of illegal gold mining,” the company said. “There have been several efforts earlier this year to address this dangerous situation.”

The company said it met on Monday with Vice President Ronnie Brunswijk about informal mining and then received news of the collapse, which it called “a poignant reminder” of the dangers of informal mining.

Canadian miner Iamgold Corp, Rosebel’s previous owner, dismissed 325 contractors in 2019 after a clash between illegal miners and police, and later that year suffered a blockade.

Zijin faces issues with informal and illegal mining at other operations in South America.

A Reuters investigation showed in 2021 that some tunnels on its Buritica concession in Colombia are controlled by the Clan del Golfo crime gang, which buys output from informal miners.

Road blockades around its Colombia concession have also repeatedly halted output.