Employees arrested after Brazil dam breach

Article by Amanda Jasi

EIGHT Vale employees have been arrested as part of a criminal investigation into the collapse of one of the company’s tailings dams on 25 January in Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil. BBC News reports that 17 employees have already been detained for questioning this month.

So far following the dam collapse 169 people have been confirmed dead, and 141 are still missing.

The Financial Times reports that all the individuals arrested were “directly involved in the safety and stability” of the dam which collapsed. Those arrested will be questioned by investigators in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Arrests were also previously reported.

According to the Financial Times another 14 arrest warrants have been issued. BBC News reports that search warrants have been issued for four employees of TÜV SÜD, an international company which specialises in geotechnics. The company carried out an audit in September of last year and concluded that the dam was stable.

According to a recent Reuters report Vale was aware that the dam was at risk of collapse. The dam was reportedly twice as likely to collapse than the maximum level tolerated by Vale’s internal guidelines.

Reuters reported that in an e-mailed statement Vale said: “There is no known report, audit or study with any mention of an imminent risk of collapse at Dam 1 in the Córrego do Feijão mine in Brumadinho.”

“To the contrary, the dam had all its certificates of safety and stability attested to by local and foreign specialists.”

Vale CEO Fabio Schvartsman told Brazilian Congress that there was no information indicating an imminent risk, says the Financial Times. Reportedly, this view was challenged by the attorney general for the state of Minas Gerais, Antônio Sérgio Tonet.

The cause of the collapse is still unknown, but the matter is under investigation. According to BBC News, experts believe that liquefaction caused the collapse. Liquefaction is a process in which materials such as sand lose their strength and behave more like liquid. This process led to the collapse of a Samarco dam in 2015, an incident which killed 19 people. Samarco is jointly owned by Vale and BHP Billiton.

Vale has said that it is “cooperating with the authorities”. The company also said it “will continue to support the investigations in order to determine the facts, in addition to the unconditional support to the families”.

According to Reuters the recent incident has caused investors to take a step back from Vale. Furthermore, it has also called into question the willingness of investors and lenders to fund the “broader industry”.

A “different” attitude

According to an analysis by Daniel Gallas, South America business correspondent at BBC News, Brazilian authorities are showing a “different” attitude to this incident compared to the Samarco collapse. Following the 2015 incident, authorities were apparently accused of being “too slow” and “complacent”. To date, no-one has been sentenced for that incident, and Vale is yet to pay related fines, says BBC News.

After the most recent incident court orders are suspending some of Vale’s most profitable operations and freezing its assets.

BBC News reports that in Fabio Schvartsman’s “disastrous” Congress appearance he called Vale “a Brazilian jewel” and said that it “cannot be condemned for an accident that happened in one of its dams - even though it was such a big tragedy”. This apparently drew angry replies from law makers.

The news agency adds that Vale’s “failure to respond adequately” is increasing the charge from authorities. Politicians are expected to set up a Congress inquiry about Vale in the coming days, says BBC News. In addition, BBC News reports that stricter mining legislation is being considered.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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