Metal Corp mum on nickel start

Business, Normal

The National, Thursday 22nd December 2011

METAL Corp of China – the developer of the Ramu Nickel mine in Madang province – yesterday shied away from commenting on reports the mine was working toward commissioning the project soon.
The National newspaper approached the company to verify reports by Reuters news service that commissioning preparations were in progress and it would be operating close to maximum capacity by mid-to-late 2013.
 It quoted an un-named Highlands Pacific source.
When MCC was contacted yesterday, the company referred this newspaper back to Highlands Pacific for verification.
The Highlands Port Moresby-based manager Ron Gawi refrained from making any comments.
Reuters reported that the US$1.5 billion Ramu nickel project was China’s single-largest mining investment in PNG and attributed it to Highlands, which is a minority shareholder.
The project, the first of its kind for PNG, was under development to yield 31,150 tonnes of nickel and 3,300 tonnes of cobalt a year for at least 20 years, but had been faced with a series of setbacks and environmental protests.
Highlands said commissioning activities were underway after review of the project by PNG’s chief inspector of mines and that a beneficiation plant and 136km pipeline to transport slurry had been tested several times using water.
The mine has been plagued by local protests over plans to dump 100 million tonnes of waste 400m offshore.
A court ruling had already approved the dumping, but an appeal against the decision was still pending.
Highlands said a ruling on the appeal was expected early next year and was not affecting commissioning work.
Highlands held an 8.56% stake in the project.
Metallurgical Corp of China led a Chinese consortium that owned 85%, with the rest held by the PNG government.
Highlands shares closed down 3.5%, outpacing losses of 0.2% in the broader market .
The nickel was earmarked for use as an anti-corrosive in stainless steel-making in China.