BHP, Vale agree to settle one Samarco suit, second delayed

The dam burst buried a nearby village and left 19 people dead in one of Brazil's worst environmental disasters

Sydney (AFP) – Mining giants BHP and Vale, co-owners of Samarco, Tuesday reached agreement with Brazilian public authorities to settle a 20 billion real (US$5.3 billion) civil suit over a mine collapse that left 19 people dead.

The companies also established a framework to progress a second 155 billion real claim brought by federal prosecutors in the next two years, Australia’s BHP said in a statement.

The settlement relates to clean-up costs and damages after the 2015 tragedy in which an iron ore tailings dam burst and unleashed a tsunami of toxic waste and buried a nearby village in Brazil’s Minas Gerais region.

It left 19 people dead in one of the South American nation’s worst environmental disasters.

“Under this agreement the companies agreed to establish a fund for clean-up costs and remediation and for compensation of impacts relating to the Fundao tailings dam failure,” BHP said, without saying how much money would be in the fund.

It also agreed to more community participation in decisions related to remediation and compensation programmes.

BHP noted that the deal, with prosecutors and the governments of the states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo, needs to be ratified by a Brazilian federal court and approved by the federal government.

The second outstanding claim against Samarco, Vale and BHP Brasil, brought by federal prosecutors who were not part of the other agreement, is seeking social, environmental and economic compensation.

“During the two-year period, the parties will work together to design a single process for the renegotiation of the (remediation and compensation) programmes and progress settlement of the BRL155 billion civil claim,” BHP said.

Mine operations at the site have yet to be restarted, with BHP previously saying it “will occur only if it is safe, economically viable and has the support of the community”.