Bloomberg News

De Beers Expects to Find More Dead in Illegally Dug Tunnels

May 25, 2012

De Beers said rescue teams located four more bodies in illegally dug tunnels that collapsed at its Namaqualand diamond concession on South Africa’s western coast, where 17 of the miners are now thought to have died.

“We don’t think there are any more alive underground,” Sakhile Ngcobo, an executive committee member at Johannesburg- based De Beers South Africa, said by phone today. De Beers is the world’s largest diamond producer by sales.

Rescuers expect to find about 11 more bodies after retrieving two earlier, De Beers said in a statement. Three people who escaped the tunnels as they collapsed helped reconstruct the layout.

Illegal mining is rife in South Africa, where about one in every four people is unemployed. Diggers often break seals to enter miles of disused underground tunnels to extract mainly gold. In April 2010, Citigroup Inc. valued the nation’s mineral resources at about $2.5 trillion, the most of any country.

About 700 miles northeast of the Namaqualand site, 22 people were rescued from a disused Harmony Gold Mining Co. (HAR) shaft near Welkom in the Free State province after a rockfall, and arrested for trespassing, the South African Police Service said in an e-mailed statement today. Police didn’t find any evidence of fatalities in the mine.

“It’s a very complex and a very dangerous situation,” Ngcobo said of the Namaqualand rescue process today. The ground at the site is unstable, De Beers spokesman Innocent Mabusela said yesterday.

Gold Arrests

South African police said they arrested five people suspected of involvement in illegal gold buying in the Welkom area, southwest of Johannesburg. They may have been involved in hiring illegal miners, the police said in an e-mailed statement.

“Illegal mining is starting to rear its ugly head again as illicit activities have recently been reported in the Northern Cape, Free State and Gauteng in the Ekurhuleni area,” Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu said in a speech yesterday. “This happens after remarkable improvement has been achieved in the Free State and Mpumalanga provinces.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Carli Cooke in Johannesburg at clourens@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Viljoen at jviljoen@bloomberg.net


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