Talks aim to buy Cockatoo Island site

Glenn CordingleyBroome Advertiser
An aerial view of Cockatoo Island.
Camera IconAn aerial view of Cockatoo Island.

The liquidator maintaining the Cockatoo Island mine site is negotiating with an interested party to buy the iron ore project as traditional owners fear a lack of attention could lead to an environmental catastrophe.

It has been more than two years since Pluton Resources collapsed into receivership.

But Bryan Hughes of Perth-based Pitcher Partners said his company was working on a deal that would see the new owners inherit all environmental responsibility.

Mr Hughes said the mine would return to full working status.

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“As part of the proposed transaction, the interested party will accept all environmental liability for the mine and it is working towards completing their mine plans and environmental management plans at this time to coincide with the completion of the transaction,” he said.

The island’s custodians, the Dambimangari people, have warned one of WA’s most important wildlife areas, in the Buccaneer Archipelago near Derby, is threatened by company and government inaction.

Dambimangar Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Peter McCumstie said the mine was flooding while key structures were in danger of collapsing and blanketing surrounding coral reefs with sediment.

He said a potentially serious breach in the mine sea wall at the same time could contaminate an important whale migration route.

Mr McCumstie said the Department of Mines and Petroleum had turned down requests from the corporation to make the area safe, including the possible use of the WA Mine Rehabilitation Fund.

“As a result, the mining pit is now deserted and filling with seawater,” he said.

Pitcher Partners has relied on cash injections from its Hong Kong-based major creditor General Nice Resources to keep the pumps running and prevent the main pit from filling with seawater since the site closed.

In October, GNR turned off the cash taps and the pit began to fill, increasing the risk of a collapse of the sea wall. Later in the year, more money was injected and the pumps went back on.

Two weeks ago, the cash again ran out, and off went the pumps.

Now they are going back on, after new funding.

Mr Hughes said the island was manned and the mine pit was being pumped out at rates to “ensure the safety of the seawall” and “protection of the marine environment”.

He said monitoring equipment had been installed along the sea wall to continually assess its stability and “the status remained safe”.

“The company is well aware of the marine mammal population from surveys conducted with the assistance of local indigenous workers trained by the company specifically for this purpose,” Mr Hughes said.

“It maintains the highest level of respect for the marine and natural environment in the Kimberley.”

Iron ore from the island is highly sought-after as it is low in impurities, making it one of the highest grades sold on the world market.

The DMP said it was working closely with Pluton Resources and Pitcher Partners, and collaborating with other Government departments and traditional owners to ensure all safety, financial, heritage and environmental risks were “understood and managed appropriately”. A DMP spokesperson said if the island was declared an abandoned mine site, it could be considered for mining rehabilitation funding to ensure any safety and environmental risks were properly managed.

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