SYDNEY, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- BHP Billiton is still uncertain when its Samarco joint venture will restart as complex negotiations with all stakeholders continue.
"It has to make economic sense, and have a practical set of approvals in place, and we continue to work through these processes," BHP Billiton Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie told the company's annual general meeting in Brisbane on Thursday.
On Nov. 5 last year, Samarco's three tiered tailings dam collapsed, destroying nearby villages and towns, killing 19 people and leaving over a quarter of a million people without potable drinking water.
Scientists were shocked at the level of devastation caused by the "equivalent of 20,000 Olympic swimming pools" of sludge that entered the Rio Doce river, killing thousands of fish and flowing into the ocean.
BHP and Vale reached an agreement with the Brazilian government in March to pay clean-up costs, compensation to the affected population and long-term penalties, but a restart is needed to pay off mounting debt.
Last week, president of operations at BHP's Minerals Americas, Daniel Malchuk told Reuters that he is confident of a 2017 restart, but it must have agreement with Vale, Samarco employees, regulators and financial stakeholders.
The companies are also fighting off ongoing litigation and criminal charges against BHP Billiton Brazil and a number of its current and former employees over the disaster.
"We will defend the charges against he company and fully support the affected individuals in their defence of the charges against them," BHP Billiton chairman Jac Nasser told the meeting.
Nasser said a new global standard for the company's tailings dams across BHP's portfolio, including at its joint venture projects that draws on best practice is also being developed.