Miners are aware of many risks in the course of their work. The possibility of underground rockbursts, potential exposure to toxic chemicals and the dangers associated with huge mobile equipment can be managed. But there are no health and safety protocols for dealing with terrorist threats, and that is what PT INCO is faced with in Indonesia.
Although INCO LTD., which holds 61% of the Indonesian company, has declined to elaborate, there are press reports that terrorists have threatened foreigners working at the Soroaka nickel mine in South Sulawesi. The threats are linked to anti-mining groups including the militant Jamaah Islamiyah. The Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf terrorists are active in northern Sulawesi. The Canadian, Australian, United States and British governments have issued security advisories, taking the threats seriously.
"The safety of our employees is our top priority in these types of situations," Inco chairman and CEO Scott Hand said in a statement. "We will continuously monitor the situation with the assistance of the Indonesian and Canadian governments." The company has hired extra security and moved expatriate employees to other sites.
Indonesia is not an easy place to do business when terrorist groups get involved. In October 2002, over 200 tourists were killed in a nightclub bombing (blamed on Jamaah Islamiyah) in Bali. Last year, Exxon Mobile was forced to suspend natural gas production for six months after attacks by separatists. With a presidential election scheduled for July 5, 2004, observers are not surprised that terrorist activities are on the rise.
Inco’s history in the country is troubled. Anti-mining groups have launched physical and verbal attacks on the "notorious Canadian nickel mining company". Inco and other multi-national mineral companies went to court to regain access to areas covered by their Contracts of Work after Indonesia passed forestry legislation five years ago forbidding open pit mining. There is no end to activist groups that blame mining for everything from ecological disaster to social upheaval, loss of livelihoods, and prostitution. Fine rhetoric, but hardly true.
Canadians know that our mineral industry creates well-paying jobs and strengthens both local and national economies. We know that the industry has a solid track record of environmental protection and remediation. We know that mining companies invest in technology to make the work safer, healthier, and more productive. We know that they can survive market downturns and are in the industry for the long term.
What we don’t know is why terrorists and extremists would threaten expatriate workers at foreign mine sites. What we are learning is how to deal with another level of uncertainty in an industry that has proven itself resilient and prepared for change.