By MELANIE VARI
CONTINUOUS flight cancellations by Air Niugini were the order of the week, but no one prepared us for what we would encounter during our two-day visit to Ramu NiCo mine in picturesque Madang province.
The warm airport reception on Tuesday Nov 14 for our ministerial team by senior Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) and provincial government officials washed away all anxiety developed from the 11 hours of waiting at Jacksons International Airport in Port Moresby.
After a 10-minute welcome fit for a state minister with flower garlands and the bowing and shaking of countless expatriate and local hands, we were escorted into a company bus and taken to our lodgings.
In the bus we were warned that the Chinese are very time conscious people. By the way, the Ramu NiCo mine is managed by Metallurgical Group Corporation of China and thus the MCC tag.
Our prepared time schedule would begin an hour after our arrival so we only 40 minutes to freshen up, then travel out of town to meet all landowner executives at the exotic Jais Aben Hotel.
Our hosts and field trip guides for the two-day visit were the President of Ramu NiCo Management (MCC) Gao Yongxue, Vice President Wang Baowen, Member for Usino-Bundi Jimmy Uguro, while senior executives of the Madang Provincial Government attended on behalf of the Governor for Madang Peter Yama.
The earlier part of the week and that Tuesday, had their share of drama, but the Minister for Mining Johnson Tuke stood his ground and chose to wait at the airport until Air Niugini put him on another flight, no matter how late, to Madang.
“I am not going to let my people down by giving up because of these flight cancellations. I am going to wait for the next flight because we all have a duty to serve our people and the Government,” he told his team.
In a bid to honour the O’Neill/Abel Government’s important 100 Day Plan and the department’s strategic mine visitation plan, the minister, has in the past three months travelled to four other mines prior to this one.
Brushing aside all official overseas trips, he has been dubbed the peace maker by his people and a workaholic by those closest to him.
Minister Tuke job involves many sleepless nights, loss of appetite, separation from family for days on end and countless hours of travelling on foot, by aircraft and vehicle, into wet mountainous regions, rivers and swamplands and reaching as far down as the coastline.
Despite jungle mozzies, the wet drenching rain and thick sticky mud or the suffocating smells caused by the infusion of soil and chemicals, he and his team endured on the mining trail.
In the first month of his ministerial appointment this year, he even brokered peace between K92 Mine Inc and Kainantu Gold Mine landowners of his electorate and he is adamant on preventing such flare-ups by going on the ground to the people and getting his hands dirty.
Ramu NiCo Mine is quite unique as the government has introduced certain “firsts” here such as mining applications and methods and the way landowner royalties are paid.
It is not like the many gold, copper and silver mines in PNG too, the team noted after the 25-minute flight out of Madang as the Heli Niugini helicopter hovered above the huge predominantly red tainted mine area.
Leaving the comforts of Sir Peter Barter’s beautiful Madang Resort the next day we toured the three distinct mine areas – Kurumbukari mine site, Basamuk processing plant and the 135 kilometres of slurry pipeline from the mine down to the processing plant.
The mine is located on the southern side of the Ramu River Valley, 75km to the southwest of Madang. The processing plant site is located on the coast of Basamuk Bay, 55km to the southeast of Madang.
The predominant fine red soil and huge mountain rocks of Kurumbukari are excavated to a depth of about seven metres only, sieved or separated, and put through its state of the art milling process prior to sending it down the extensive pipeline to its Basamuk Refinery.
The mined material is stored in huge silos and treated with a thickener before it is sent down the pipeline to Basamuk where it is refined, packaged and sent overseas for smelting and other forms of processing to extract the nickel, cobalt and bromide – bromide being the latest addition this year.
We’re all used to copper, gold and silver so the introduction to these three minerals was quite unbelievable, and the fact that they have properties that are used in the creation of many products including those in the medical field and nuclear weapons.
Nickel occurs in nature as oxides, sulphides and silicates and mined in 25 countries. It is a hard lustrous bluish-gray metal with a slight golden tinge after it is smelted. Primary nickel is produced and used in the form of ferro-nickel, nickel oxides and other chemicals and as more or less pure nickel metal. It is extensively used for making stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant alloys such as Invar, Monel, Inconel and Hastelloys. Tubing made of copper-nickel alloy is extensively used in making desalination plants for converting sea water into fresh water. The world’s major producer/supplier of nickel is the Sudbury region in Ontario, Canada.
Cobalt on the other hand is usually not mined alone and tends to be produced as a by-product of nickel and copper mining activities. It is a hard lustrous, silver-gray metal after it is smelted and the main ores of cobalt are cobalite, erythrite, glaucodot, and skutterudite. The world’s major producers of cobalt are the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainland China, Zambia, Russia and Australia. Cobalt is used to make alloys for jet engines and gas turbines, magnetic steels and some types of stainless steels. Cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope of cobalt, is an important source of gamma rays and is used to treat some forms of cancer and as a medical tracer. Cobalt is also used in both glazes and the manufacture of glass, inks, paints, pottery, ceramics, and even the tiles on your roof. (https://education.jlab.org)
The Basamuk Refinery and its ocean backdrop brought everyone back from the discussion on rocks, ore, silos and stockpiles.
Large trucks moving the precious cargo could be seen driving by slowly and a sea of gigantic white storage bags lay outdoors awaiting shipment to overseas markets.
Miles away from the gaseous chemical stench and scalding steam spouting from pipes located at various intervals around the refinery, the hilltop overlooking the wharf and the entire property offered some respite.
The minister was quite impressed with the mine facilities, ore extraction and coordination processes, and the social obligation programs MCC has initiated over the years and appealed to executives of the four impact area landowner associations and landowner companies to adopt prudent and responsible management practises because their people trusted them.
In respect to leadership and members of parliament from mining provinces and electorates, the minister reassured the leadership of Madang that he was willing to work together for the betterment of the people and the realisation of the O’Neill/Abel Government’s expectations of a vibrant mining sector.
“Irrespective of where you sit in parliament, I have an open door policy. The primary reason why we sit on the floor of parliament is to serve our people……and I would like to thank the Member for Usino-Bundi, the provincial government, Ramu NiCo and the landowners,” he said,
“In this term of Parliament I want to make it my business, as the minister, to have the courtesy to visit all the mines in PNG. I want to see, feel and appreciate how the mines operate, I want to appreciate how my people enjoy the benefits, I want to see and feel how they lack government services in relation to mining,” said Tuke.
“If there are certain things captured in the MOA…..is not being discharged by the company, I want to see it myself and I want to hear it myself. I don’t want to be put into any tutorial lesson, I don’t want to read or hear about it in the media. That is the reason why I started off with Ok-Tedi, then Frieda, Kainantu, and Ramu NiCo is no exception.”
“I have a strategy in place and I have to visit all the mining operations in the country and I want to know what my people are experiencing, especially the mine area people so this is the reason why I’ve come here. At the end of this week I am going to visit Wafi-Golpu.”
“I am presenting myself before you because in many instances it is very hard for you to reach me in Port Moresby. It makes me worried for you to come into my office because it is an expensive exercise so for that very reason I am here for you to express your sentiments. You express your views and don’t hold it tightly. To a certain extent I want to reaffirm what the Government can do for you through the certain offices and elements that are in place to ensure that the MOAs or MOUs are working in your favour,” he said.
He said working together to achieve a common outcome was crucial for progress in any project development activity in the country.
A trip that was supposed to end on a beautiful Thursday Madang morning was extended to Friday as the flight cancellations run havoc this festive season. Anyway, thanks to Air Niugini, we spent an extra day in paradise.
- Melanie Vari is press secretary-Ministry of Mining.