Vale CFO denies miner’s top managers were aware of dam risk report
Collapsed facility at Brumadinho was rated as being twice more likely to fail than the maximum level of risk tolerated under internal guidelines
Rio de Janeiro — The senior management at Brazilian miner Vale were never shown internal security documents indicating that its dam at Brumadinho was at risk of collapse, the company’s CFO said on Tuesday.
The CFO, Luciano Siani, was asked about the management’s knowledge of the internal documents at a news conference a day after Reuters reported on them. The report, dated October 3 2018, classified the dam at Brumadinho — which collapsed in late January in one of the deadliest mining disasters in decades — as being twice more likely to fail than the maximum level of risk tolerated under internal guidelines.
Asked whether the company’s senior management had seen the report, Siani said: “No.”
“There was a lot of controversy about this recommendation to pass technical details to senior management,” Siani said at the company’s headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.
“If a mechanic and a pilot detect a problem, they have to have the autonomy to take immediate decisions in the field, and if you scale that into the company hierarchy, it can mean the difference between taking a quick decision and not.”
The disaster in the mineral-rich state of Minas Gerais was the second major collapse of a mining dam in the region in three years, following a similar disaster in 2015 at a nearby mine co-owned by Vale. So far, 165 people have been confirmed dead after the dam burst, with nearly 200 more likely also killed.
Siani said that in general, it is debatable whether technical details on Vale’s dams should reach the board, as that could affect flexible decision-making.
He said the safety measures recommended by the documents, generated by national and international experts, are already being acted upon by the company. He said the report recommended actions, such as reducing the water level, which are already underway.
Siani said that the board was told that the dam is stable.
The collapsed dam, which had more than 12-million cubic metres of iron ore tailings, released a wave of mud that buried company facilities, nearby dwellings and forests, and affected rivers in the region.
“This structure, in addition to having no imminent risk, did not show any symptom of problems,” Siani said.
Vale shares added to gains after the news conference, rising 5.4% to close at 44.30 reais.
“The news conference helped reduce risk perception in relation to potential future litigation,” XP Investimentos analyst Karel Luketic said in a research note, adding that the current depressed share price more than reflects future risks stemming from the collapse.
Siani said there were 46 board meetings related to the dam issue from 2016 to 2018, but did not go into detail.