The Ramu nickel and copper mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has generated controversy and deep concerns over its environmental and social record. Despite fierce local opposition and a legal battle that suspended operations for 19 months, the mine is currently operating, dumping an estimated 14,000 tonnes of toxic mine waste into Basamuk Bay every day.
Tailings are the sludge left once the mineral is extracted from the ore. They contain crushed rock, processing chemicals and naturally occurring elements that become toxic when exposed to air or water. This toxic cocktail settles on and smothers the seafloor, killing everything that lives there. Tailings can also spread, contaminating other areas and destroying coral reefs and other habitat.
Coastal residents depend on the Bismarck Sea for bathing, food and medicine, and an estimated 30,000 fishermen make their livelihoods in Basamuk Bay. The PNG National Fisheries Authority criticized the project, calling it “unsustainable socially, economically and environmentally.”
Lawsuit fails to protect indigenous Kurumbukari peopleA class-action lawsuit from over 1,000 coastal landowners was not enough to block the mine. After years of legal wrangling, during which the plaintiffs and their lawyers faced intimidation and violence from Ramu mine supporters, PNG’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the project and the plans to dump mine waste into the ocean.
The indigenous Kurumbukari people were forcibly displaced from their ancestral homeland to make way for the mine, separating them from to their livelihoods, traditional way of life, and spiritual practice. Activities from the open-pit mine have polluted the water, destroyed fishing grounds spread disease.
The mine is owned and operated as a joint venture between the Metallurgical Corporation of China Ltd (MCC) and Highlands Pacific, an Australian company. JP Morgan and Citibank are shareholders.
“Communities along the Basamuk Bay, the pipeline and Krumbukare (production site) that once were in support of the mine are now frustrated and angry. They are not receiving benefits from the mine as promised and most importantly, they see the destruction by the company. There has been continuous environmental pollution and health related issues are on the rise.” — John Chitoa, Director, Bismarck Ramu Group
Banner photo credit: Christopher McLeod, Sacred Land Film Project