Pike River manager scores coal job in Canada

NEIL REID
Last updated 05:00 14/10/2012

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The manager of the ill-fated Pike River Mine has landed a top job at a Canadian underground coalmine.

Vancouver-based Compliance Energy Corporation has appointed Stephen Ellis as operations vice-president for its Compliance Coal subsidiary. Ellis was Pike River's mine manager at the time of the November 19, 2010, tragedy that claimed the lives of 29 miners and contractors. He had also been production manager.

Almost two years on, the Government and new mine owners, Solid Energy, are yet to attempt to recover the dead men's remains.

A statement from Compliance Energy Corporation said it was "pleased to announce" Ellis's appointment, applauding his "extensive coalmining career", including more than 30 years in Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

The statement made no mention of the Pike River disaster or of Ellis's appearance at the royal commission of inquiry investigating the tragedy, which heard allegations of management and health and safety failings, mine design faults, and criticism of the actions of management and emergency services after the explosions.

"We are delighted to have Stephen join our team," Compliance Energy Corporation president and chief executive John Tapics said. "His extensive experience in underground coalmining operations in multiple jurisdictions is a rare commodity."

The company, which also approved 150,000 stock options for Ellis, at an exercise price of 10 cents a share, said he held a first class mine manager's certificate of competency in Britain and New Zealand. At the inquiry, it emerged Ellis had made three unsuccessful attempts to secure Australia's coalmine management certificate, later securing the New Zealand qualification.

Ellis and Tapics did not respond to approaches from the Sunday Star-Times. Ellis's LinkedIn profile shows he has been working for the corporation for a month. He was on Pike River's payroll until two months ago.

Pike River Families spokesman Bernie Monk was surprised at the appointment. "I am surprised they have given him the accolades they have.

"I thought they would look into it a lot further. But I will let the commission judge and wait for its finding before I comment."

Last month, Ellis was one of six former Pike employees and board members - including former chief executive Peter Whittall - who sought to have the hearings reopened. The application was dismissed by Justice Young, who said he was satisfied there was no reason, based on prejudice to any fair trial rights, to delay November's report.

In January, the Star-Times revealed Whittall had founded a business to consult on issues such as mine safety. Peter Whittall & Associates was described on his LinkedIn page as: "Consulting across a broad range of technical, safety, commercial and management issues, primarily across the minerals industry."

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It detailed his experience as a mining executive but made no mention of the tragedy which saw Pike River go into receivership, which ultimately led to his redundancy. There was also no mention of charges subsequently laid against him by the Department of Labour.

- Sunday Star Times

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