KONKOLA Copper Mines (KCM) has suspended operations at its Nchanga underground mine after miners were trapped in a cage when the mine flooded due to the restriction of power supply by Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC).
KCM manager for public relations and communications Shapi Shacinda said yesterday that the Nchanga underground mine was flooded following a further alleged unilateral decision by CEC to step down power supply to a major transformer supplying electricity to the mine.
“The incident put at risk the lives of miners who were working at the bottom of a cage. This occurred on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 around 23:40 hours. When KCM technicians noticed instability and trip-outs of a power transformer, investigations revealed that CEC had further restricted power supply, without notifying KCM, beyond the earlier restriction on Saturday, September 20, 2014, which had prompted the suspension of operations at the Nchanga concentrator,” Mr Shacinda said
He said CEC allegedly “recklessly” stepped down its transformers supplying power to Nchanga underground mine from 150 percent overload settings to 50 percent.
Mr Shacinda alleged that this is in total disregard of the provisions of the Power Supply Agreement (PSA), which requires both parties to be present when restricting supply to avoid creating safety hazards to employees and flooding risk of the mine.
“KCM officials made initial efforts and contacted CEC technicians just after the incident occurred to ask them to resume normal supply to the Nchanga underground mine but the CEC technicians refused to comply,” Mr Shacinda said.
He said supply was only normalised following the intervention of the CEC managing director, who had to be contacted by a senior KCM executive and informed of the flooding and risk to miners trapped underground.
Mr Shacinda said the cage could not be operated to take the miners up due to the restricted power.
“The miners were later rescued and we are pleased to advise that they are in good health. Resulting from the CEC unilateral power restriction and the flooding this has caused, KCM has suspended mining operations at the Nchanga underground and has incurred massive financial losses,” Mr Shacinda said.
He said it will now take weeks to de-water the flooded areas and more time to stabilise and resume normal operations.
Meanwhile, Minister of Mines, Energy and Water Development Christopher Yaluma says Government will no longer tolerate the stand-off between CEC and KCM over a commercial dispute because it is tantamount to economic sabotage.
Mr Yaluma said in Lusaka yesterday that Government does not want the restriction of power supply to KCM to result in job losses and to negatively impact on the national economy.
“We think there is need for consideration on the part of CEC because this is a serious economic disruption and Government is very much concerned about the turn of events at KCM.
“We cannot continue tolerating the way events are unfolding. Right now [Wednesday], I am trying to talk to CEC officials. I cannot get hold of Mr Hanson Sindowe [CEC board chairman] because he is out of the country, so I am trying to get hold of the managing director Owen Silavwe to see how this matter can be resolved amicably since it is now tantamount to economic sabotage,” he said.
Early this year, CEC, which supplies power to the mines on the Copperbelt, increased electricity tariffs which KCM disputed and the matter was taken for arbitration.
But last week, the Lusaka High Court ruled in favour of CEC, which is owed about US$44 million by KCM.
Consequently, CEC restricted power supply to KCM and restricted service to critical areas like underground ventilation, pumps and medical facilities.
This development forced KCM to shut down its Nchanga concentrator on Saturday which has affected production at its Tailings Leach Plant, resulting in loss of 482 metric tonnes of copper production worth about US$3.3 million.