NZ judge orders compensation for 29 mining deaths

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A bankrupt New Zealand coal company was ordered Friday to pay the families of 29 miners killed in a 2010 methane explosion, though they may receive just a fraction of the compensation.

A judge ruled the miners’ families and two survivors of the explosion should get 110,000 New Zealand dollars ($86,000) individually, an amount in doubt because Pike River Coal went into bankruptcy soon after the explosion.

The company was convicted in April of nine health and safety violations. A government investigation found it had ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to explosive levels in the South Island mine.

Judge Jane Farish slammed the company’s actions in her ruling. In addition to ordering compensation, she also fined the company NZ$760,000.

Government lawyers had asked for compensation of between NZ$60,000 and NZ$125,000 for each of the miners.

Opposition Green Party lawmaker Kevin Hague said the government should make up any shortfall. “It is a travesty of justice that the Pike River families could end up with as little as $5,000 in compensation when they are legally entitled to much more,” Hague said in a statement.

Prime Minister John Key’s office issued a statement Friday saying it was too early to speculate on any government payments given that some aspects of the case are still before the courts.

Former chief executive Peter Whittall faces 12 charges in a case yet to be heard.

The victims’ bodies are still entombed in the Pike River mine because the methane gas buildup that caused the explosion has made a recovery operation too risky.

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