March 21 2014

March Mine Visit: Part 2

Part Two of Alan's Journey, click here to read March Mine Visit: Part One.


Going into the mine:

I was taken to the stores where I was fitted out with a breathing mask to protect me from the dust and given a miners lamp for my helmet. The entrance to the mine is small and the office records everyone who goes in and out, safety is paramount.

We descend into the mine which has 12 levels - access able only by ladders. Walking for 400m along a narrow tunnel you reach the coal face or gold face. Gold is found in seams that have been pushed through the mountain by volcanic activity. 



Gold is a heavy metal,19 times denser then water. It is brought up from the earths crust as lava rises inside the volcano. It solidified millions of years ago and forms a seam in the rock. This seam can be 15cm to 40cm wide and this is the gold ore. The miners drill holes in the rock face and place small explosives in the holes. Detonate and 4-5 tonnes of rock hit the deck.

Then the arduous task of picking the rock up by hand starts . They fill a small truck which holds 700kg and push it to a winch shaft. There they load it into a holding bin ready for the winch that will take it to the surface. The winch takes 700kgs a time and typically will extract 50-60tonnes of ore a day.

The conditions are harsh. Firstly you are 8000ft above sea level, the air is thin. Then it's dusty, the Dr told me psoriasis, a lung condition, is her biggest problem. It's a warm 24c in a confined space. The mines are ventilated but not brilliantly. After a 5 hour shift the miners climb out of the mine, from the bottom level that's nearly 1500ft by ladder. These guys are super fit and strong.

The Sotrami mine only takes the gold rich seam from the rock. Currently for every ton of rock extracted they get 24gms of gold. Compare that with a big commercial mine where they average 1.5gms. So Fairtrade gold is more environmentally beautiful too it's 15 times more efficient.

When the rock gets to the surface it is taken to the refinery where it is crushed and the gold is extracted. This part of the process is the most vulnerable for the communities. The refinery plant is usually a few  kilometres from the village because of the noise of the crushers. More importantly this is where 10kg bars of gold are produced worth $400000 a week. It sounds a lot but running a mine and facilities for 3000 people takes all of that .

Security at the refinery is always a worry. Last month one of the neighbouring mines got attacked, the president of the group was shot dead and six others wounded. This is not for the faint hearted.

The gold bars are refined to about 99.93% which is adequate for export. We refine these again when they get to the UK to 99.99% for use in the jewellery world.

The bars are then transported to Lima airport where they are shipped off to awaiting customers.

Secure transport to the airport cost the mines $4,500 a week. These communities work really hard and live very tough lives in remote locations. Our miners working to the Fairtrade system form part of the formal mining industry. There are still 80,000 miners in Peru working in informal unsafe conditions that need our help.