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Copper Mine Collapse to Cause Short-Term Rise in Prices

TIMIKA, Indonesia (AP) – Rescuers recovered another four bodies from a collapsed underground room at a giant U.S.-owned gold and copper mine in Indonesia, bringing the confirmed death toll to 21, mine officials said Tuesday. Seven others were believed buried under the rubble.

The Big Gossan underground training facility at the PT Freeport Indonesia mine collapsed last week when 38 workers were undergoing safety training. Ten injured miners were rescued.

A statement from the company said recovery efforts were continuing around the clock.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he had ordered two Cabinet ministers to personally investigate the accident, but their visits were rejected by the company because rescue efforts were still under way.

Mining operations at the Grasberg mine, owned by Phoenix, Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., have been suspended since the accident to pay respects to the victims and to concentrate on the recovery effort. The company said the accident was expected to have no significant impact on its operations.

“I will continue to order the ministers as well as other concerned officials to thoroughly discuss and investigate to find out what has to be done to ensure safety in the future,” Yudhoyono said after presiding over a meeting to discuss the accident. “We will evaluate all mining companies in the country, not only Freeport.”

Richard Adkerson, president and CEO of Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold, arrived Saturday at the scene and visited the injured workers and the families of those still buried.

“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by this event,” Adkerson said, adding that “the entire Freeport family around the world joins Freeport Indonesia in grieving for our lost brothers.”

The Grasberg mine is one of the world’s largest single producers of both copper and gold.

More than 20,000 workers are employed at the mine, which has repeatedly been targeted by arson attacks, roadside bombs and blockades since production began in the 1970s. It is located in the remote mountains of resource-rich but impoverished Papua province, which is home to a decades-long, low-level separatist insurgency.

How will the Grasberg collapse effect copper prices?
Edward Meir, metals analyst at INTL FCStone in New York City, says “We did turn short-term bullish on copper earlier in the week once the gravity of the situation at Grasberg began to sink in.

“The tunnel collapse, although not an integral part of the supply chain, has now tragically claimed some 28 lives, catapulting it to the top ranks of major mine disasters and prompting Freeport to say today that the mine will not restart production until it is convinced of its safety. Although no time-line was provided in this regard, we suspect that… the outage may last several more weeks, which in turn, could be a short-term game changer for the market.”

Grasberg normally produces around 220,000 tons of concentrated ore a day, with around 140,000 tons coming from open pit mining and 80,000 tons from underground operations; the numbers suggest that the company is losing about $15 million a day in lost output.

“We should remember that the Bingham Canyon outage is also significant, and although the news barely caused a ripple when it was first announced, it looms even larger post-Grasberg,” says Meir.

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