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A man talks on his phone next to SSR's Çöpler gold mine near Ilic village, eastern Turkey, on Feb. 14, after at least nine workers became trapped during a landslide in the area.Ugur Yildirim/The Associated Press

A rescue effort to find nine employees of SSR Mining Inc. SSRM-T who went missing after a landslide at a gold mine in Turkey last week has been suspended, as authorities try to prevent an environmental catastrophe.

On Feb. 13, a landslide slammed into SSR Mining’s Copler mine, hitting the company’s on-site heap leach gold processing plant. Despite a search-and rescue effort involving more than 400 members of Turkey’s national disaster relief agency, the missing workers have not been found.

SSR said in a statement on Tuesday that the Turkish government had suspended its search for the missing employees to focus on stabilizing the heap leach area. Heap leaching involves treating mined ore with highly toxic cyanide to extract the precious metal. Turkish officials have been monitoring surface water, groundwater, soil and air quality, and as of Feb. 17 had found no evidence of contamination.

The mine is located near the massive Euphrates River in east central Turkey, and the government is concerned that hazardous waste from the mine could enter the waterbody.

All operations at Copler were suspended after the landslide, and the government promptly revoked SSR’s environmental permit, as authorities started an investigation into the company. Eight employees of the company were detained by authorities as part of that investigation, and the company said on Feb. 18 that several SSR workers were subsequently charged.

Turkish press reported that a Canadian national, Iain Guille, vice-president of SSR’s Turkey operation, was among the detained employees. Before joining SSR in 2020, Mr. Guille worked for Canadian fertilizer company Potash Corp. (now Nutrien Ltd.)

SSR Mining declined comment. Mr. Guille did not respond to a request for comment.

Charlotte MacLeod, a spokesperson with Global Affairs Canada, declined to comment in detail about the detainment of Mr. Guille, other than saying the federal government is aware that a Canadian citizen was detained in Turkey, and that Canadian consular officials are in contact with local authorities.

Copler has been in operation since 2018 and is SSR’s biggest asset. The mine is located 550 kilometres east of the Turkish capital of Ankara in a desert. SSR acquired the mine when it bought Alacer Gold Corp. in 2020.

SSR has some history of troubles at Copler involving the use of cyanide. Operations at the mine were suspended for three months in 2022 following a cyanide leak that originated in a pipeline.

SSR’s share price has fallen by more than 50 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange since the landslide.

Michael Siperco, analyst with RBC Dominion Securities Inc., downgraded his rating on the stock to underperform on Tuesday and is now assigning zero value to both Copler and the company’s Hod Maden development project in Turkey.

Mr. Siperco estimates that SSR could be facing US$200-million in remediation costs owing to the landslide, and predicts the company will cut its dividend by 50 per cent in order to preserve capital.

“Precedent suggests a long, expensive road back, if at all,” he said in a note to clients.

He points out that past mining accidents in Turkey involving significant loss of life over the past few decades have resulted in mine closings, criminal charges and convictions in some cases.

SSR is based in the United States, but it used to be a Canadian company up until a few years ago.

SSR was incorporated in British Columbia in 1946 and operated the massive Silver Standard mine in the province for decades. In the 2000s, the company, then called Silver Standard Resources, diversified into gold, buying Barrick Gold Corp.’s Marigold operation in Nevada, and the Seabee mine in Saskatchewan.

With most of its production coming from gold and not silver, the company changed its name to SSR Mining in 2017. After the acquisition of Alacer Gold, SSR redomiciled from Vancouver to Denver, where Alacer was based. Alacer chief executive officer Rod Antel at that point also took over the top executive position.

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