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Brazilian mining giant hit with fine over dam disaster which killed 10 and left hundreds missing

Updated January 26, 2019

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People from the community of Parque da Cachoeira look at a firefighter helicopter flying over the mud-hit area a day after the collapse of a dam at an iron-ore mine belonging to Brazil's giant mining company Vale. —AFP
People from the community of Parque da Cachoeira look at a firefighter helicopter flying over the mud-hit area a day after the collapse of a dam at an iron-ore mine belonging to Brazil's giant mining company Vale. —AFP
People from the community of Parque da Cachoeira look at the mud-hit area a day after the collapse of a dam at an iron-ore mine belonging to Brazil's giant mining company Vale near the town of Brumadinho in the state of Minas Gerias in southeastern Brazil. —AFP
People from the community of Parque da Cachoeira look at the mud-hit area a day after the collapse of a dam at an iron-ore mine belonging to Brazil's giant mining company Vale near the town of Brumadinho in the state of Minas Gerias in southeastern Brazil. —AFP

Brazilian mining giant Vale was hit with an initial $66.5 million fine Saturday over a dam collapse at one of its mines a day earlier that killed at least 10 people and left hundreds missing.

The amount, confirmed by multiple sources including a government official, was announced by the environment ministry, which did not immediately give an official figure.

It was levied by the government's environmental protection agency Ibama.

The penalty, for violations at the Vale iron ore mine in Brumaldinho, near the city of Belo Horizonte, will likely be followed by others as authorities evaluate the scale and gravity of the disaster, analysts told Brazilian media.

An official dealing with environmental issues in Minas Gerais state, where the dam collapse happened, told AFP the state was preparing another fine.

State authorities have already ordered $265 million in Vale's bank accounts be frozen with a view to making the funds available to victims of the disaster.

“The full force of the law” will be applied to those responsible, Minas Gerais governor Romeu Zema told reporters.

Shares in Vale, one of the biggest mining companies in the world, fell 8 per cent in New York on Friday after the disaster occurred.

The company was involved in a similar dam collapse in 2015 at another mine it operated elsewhere in Minas Gerais in conjunction with Anglo-Australian company BHP.

In that case, their joint venture was slapped with a similar-sized fine that was later reduced, but which was in any case far eclipsed by an agreed $2.3-billion compensation payout — and an ever bigger lawsuit that is still pending.