EARTHWORKS

Communities finally get their day in court to defend Astrolabe Bay (PNG)

Scott Cardiff's avatar
By Scott Cardiff

February 9, 2011

The Ramu nickel mine in in Papua New Guinea wants to tear up the land and flush millions of tons of toxic mineral waste directly into the ocean just off-shore in Basamuk/Astrolabe Bay. "Out of sight, out of mind," the companies want people to think of that waste dumping. Well the ocean is not a toilet for the mining companies' toxic waste, and landowners around the coastal area of Papua New Guinea have said "not so fast!"

Several Madang community members, recently joined by an additional 998 landowner plaintiffs, have filed a lawsuit to demand a permanent injunction against the Ramu Nickel project's plan to directly dump mine waste, or tailings, into the ocean. After months of delays, during which the mine built up its project, the government sought to ban lawsuits against mining companies, and mine promoters harassed and scared off the original plaintiffs, the community members finally got their day in court as proceedings began yesterday and continued today.

The plaintiff landowners began to put forward their mounds of evidence to explain how the mine would destroy the coral reefs and environment of Basamuk/Astrolabe Bay and their fishing and other livelihoods. The Ramu nickel mine planned by Metallurgical Construction Corp. (headquartered in China) and Highlands Pacific (headquartered in Australia) would dump at least 5 million tons of toxic waste into the ocean only 400 m from shore every year for around 20 years. Two independent reports have pointed to the probable destructive impacts of the dumping, and the inadequacies of the company's environmental studies. The courts already imposed a temporary injunction last year before coral reef destruction began, and now the communities are seeking to make that permanent.

The companies are persisting with their plans in spite of the global trend against dumping tailings into the ocean. Dumping of mine tailings directly into the ocean from the land continues at only a few mine sites in the whole world.  Many communities and governments have realized that it is a dangerous and irresponsible practice that smothers and poisons marine life and threatens human health and livelihoods. The laws in China and Australia, the companies' home countries, would seem to prevent a dumping project like Ramu nickel in their own waters.

The controversial and irresponsible Ramu Nickel project is being backed financially by the bank ANZ (a shareholder in Highlands Pacific) and the China Export-Import bank, providing US$ 560 million in financing.

For more information, see

Tagged with: ocean, nickel, marine, highlands pacific, coral reef, basamuk bay, astrolabe bay, anz

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