NZ judge orders bankrupt coal company to pay families of 29 miners killed in 2010 explosion

A New Zealand judge Friday ordered a coal mining company to pay compensation to the families of 29 miners killed in a 2010 methane explosion.

The families and two survivors of the explosion may receive only a fraction of their 110,000 New Zealand dollars ($86,000) individual compensation because Pike River Coal went into bankruptcy soon after the explosion.

The company was convicted in April of nine health and safety violations. A government investigation found it had ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to explosive levels in the South Island mine.

Judge Jane Farish slammed the company's actions in her ruling. In addition to ordering compensation, she also fined the company NZ$760,000.

Government lawyers had asked for compensation of between NZ$60,000 and NZ$125,000 for each of the miners.

Opposition Green Party lawmaker Kevin Hague on Friday said the government should make up any shortfall in the compensation amount.

"It is a travesty of justice that the Pike River families could end up with as little as $5,000 in compensation when they are legally entitled to much more," Hague said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the government may issue a statement later Friday.

Former chief executive Peter Whittall faces 12 charges in a separate case yet to be heard.

The victims' bodies are still entombed in the Pike River mine because the methane gas buildup that caused the explosion has made a recovery operation too risky.