MARCH 2011
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The global footprint and mining capability of the Cementation Group was put to the test in the San Jose mine rescue in which 33 Chilean miners were brought to the surface alive after being trapped 688 metres underground for 69 days.


Miner Franklin Lobos (R-C) greets President Sebastian Pinera of Chile during a ceremony in honour of the
33 Chilean miners previously trapped at San Jose mine, at La Moneda presidential palace

The miners were trapped on 5 August last year after the main access tunnel to the mine collapsed. For two weeks they were feared dead until communication was established on 22 August. After an unprecedented and successful rescue operation which involved the drilling of three separate rescue holes in a carefully designed and executed rescue mission, television viewers around the world watched in awe as all 33 miners were brought to the surface on 14 October.

How did Murray & Roberts get involved?

Murray & Roberts has a controlling shareholding in two mining companies in Chile: Terracem, which is a specialist raise drilling company, and the recently established Cementation Sudamèrica, which is focused on major vertical shaft and underground mine infrastructure work. Its partner in Chile is a local exploration drilling company, Terraservice, whose drill reached the underground refuge chamber and established the first communication with the miners. The miners attached a written message to the drill pipe confirming that they were alive and well

A Murray & Roberts large diameter raise drilling machine, the Strata 950 which was manufactured in Australia by Cementation RUC, was the first drill on site when the Chilean government called for help. It had just completed a shaft for Codelco’s Andina Mine and was mobilised to site to drill a rescue hole. The combined Cementation Group, comprising Cementation Canada, Murray & Roberts Cementation and RUC Cementation Mining Contractors, collaborated in the design of a rescue plan that was accepted by the Chilean government. Rotary Vertical Drilling System (RVDS) technology, co-developed by Murray & Roberts, was applied to accurately drill a vertical pilot hole to reach the trapped miners, after which it would have been reamed to a larger diameter to establish a rescue shaft.


Murray & Roberts was presented with this
sculpture by the Mayor of Ekhuruleni in
recognition of its contribution to the San
Jose mine rescue.

As time was of the essence, the Chilean government mobilised two other down-the-hole drill rigs (an oil field rig and a water well rig) which had higher drilling rates than the Strata 950, but not the same level of accuracy. Accuracy was very important, as in the event of poor ground conditions, the rescue shafts would have had to be lined before any rescue could be attempted. A team of Murray & Roberts drill rig operators worked alongside several other teams, including those that were drilling holes to send food, water and other supplies to the miners.

Another hole (referred to as Plan B), broke through first to the trapped miners, and this became the passage to bring the men to the surface. Although this was not the hole drilled by the Strata 950, the Cementation team collaborated on the final rescue plan and contributed their expertise at all stages of the mission. The South African flag flew alongside those of the other countries that had teamed up and worked tirelessly in this global effort to save precious lives.


Global heavyweight


Brian Bruce congratulates Wynand Botes, head of the
Murray & Roberts drilling team on the San Jose mine
rescue project. Other members of the team were
Riaan Viviers, Mario Scholtz, Johan Badenhorst
and Christo Esterhuizen

Murray & Roberts has a history dating back more than 80 years of serving the mining industry and is recognised as a leading underground mining contractor worldwide.

The Group acquired Cementation Africa and Cementation Canada in July 2004 and integrated Cementation Africa with its RUC branded operations in South Africa. Together with RUC Cementation in Australia, these companies form the Cementation Group which has operations in the established mining markets of South and Southern Africa, North and South America, Australasia and Asia.

Expansion in Chile

In 2009, Murray & Roberts extended its fledgling presence in Chile with the establishment of Cementation Sudamérica to participate in planned expansion of underground mining in the country and region, and supplement the established raise drilling operations of 50% owned local company, Terracem.

The Cementation Group is leveraging its combined global capacity to access new markets and significant opportunities that the individual operations may not have been able to undertake in their own right.

The business is well positioned to benefit from ongoing global demand for natural resources, driven primarily by China. The operations in South Africa, North America and Australia have all secured new contracts in the past year and continue to work on large long-term contracts that have provided a buffer during the economic downturn. Cementation Sudamérica has pre-qualified for its first major shaft projects in Chile, and is well placed to participate in the shaft construction activity which is planned to commence during 2012.