Mining in West Africa steams ahead despite pandemic
With some of the world’s highest gold grades, the West African mining sector is generally producing well even under Covid-19 conditions – and is relying on explosives companies to maintain supply security and technical assistance through these challenging times.
According to Michael Klaasen – General Manager of West African Operations at explosives and blasting global leader BME, a member of the Omnia group – the Covid-19 pandemic has had minimal effect on its mining clients’ production from a blasting perspective.
“Most mine sites are locked down, with access limited to only certain essential deliveries,” said Klaasen. “Some mines were considering reducing production in the event of a shortage of raw materials, but BME has managed to keep clients blasting during this time with sufficient stocks, continued deliveries and dedicated personnel on sites.”
Borders between countries have remained open to cargo, allowing BME’s supplies to reach customer sites in Mauritania, Mali, Sierra Leone and Burkina Faso. Goods and raw materials are shipped into Nouakchott in Mauritania, into Dakar in Senegal and into Tema or Takoradi in Ghana.
“Our cross-border channels have allowed BME to keep three months of stock on site, in line with customers’ expectations,” he said.
A number of BME technical personnel have remained on mine sites around the region since the start of the lockdowns in the different countries. In some cases, these personnel have even been able to stand in for mine blasting staff, to ensure that blasting takes place safely. He said BME has applied all the necessary Covid-19 measures required – in line with its own health and safety protocols as well as the customer’s policies and the national regulations for that country.
“This generally includes the wearing of face masks, the use of sanitisers, regular temperature checks and ensuring social distancing,” he said. “Our emulsion trucks are also sanitised before entering mine sites to reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.”
In addition to supplying emulsion explosives and electronic detonation systems, BME has also assisted customers in West Africa with blast design using its BLASTMAP software.
“This has been done on-site where possible, as well as on-line when necessary,” said Klaasen. “During the Covid-19 lockdown, this on-line assistance has made a valuable contribution to keeping mine operations up and running.”
Customers are able to send their blast-related data to the BME office in Bamako, Mali, where its technical managers assist mines with the planning of their blasts.
“BLASTMAP allows the blast designs to be conducted anywhere in the world,” he said. “It just requires the relevant information from the customer.”
BME Managing Director Joe Keenan noted that the future will see considerable changes in how suppliers support their mining customers.
“The leveraging of technological innovation to keep mine sites safe and efficient becomes an even more vital imperative for technology providers,” said Keenan.
With Covid-19 restricting access to mines by senior BME management, contact with customers has been maintained by regular cellular and internet communication with various tools such as WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Skype.
Klaasen expected that business would proceed more or less as usual, provided there was no sudden increase in infections – either in the countries where BME is operating or in countries from which it sources raw materials.
“It is important that borders remain open for cargo, as closures could impact the supply of stock to sites or to the regions where customers operate,” he said. “The three-month stock availability that we ensure for customers allows them to see through any temporary disruptions.”
Lynas revenue jumps 21% as rare earth prices jump
Australian miner Lynas Rare Earths posted a 20.6% rise in revenue in the March quarter as selling prices for the key metals it mines hit record highs amid strong demand, particularly for neodymium and praseodymium (NdPr).
NdPr is used in magnets for electric vehicles and windfarms, in consumer goods like smartphones, and in military equipment such as jet engines and missile guidance systems.
The company said it plans to maintain production at 75% however, as it seeks to continue to meet covid-19 safety protocols and grapples with shipping difficulties. Shares in Lynas fell 6.1% after the results.
“They have faced a few logistics issues, and it would be good to know when they are going to start lifting their utilisation rates a bit,” said portfolio manager Andy Forster of Argo Investments in Sydney.
“Pricing has been pretty strong although it may have peeled back a bit recently. I still think the medium, long-term outlook is pretty good for their suite of products.”
Lynas post ed revenue of A$110mn ($85.37mn) for the three months to the end of March, up from A$91.2mn a year earlier as prices soared.
It said its full product range garnered average selling prices of A$35.5/kg during the March quarter, up from $23.7 in the first half of the financial year. “While the persistence of the covid crisis, especially in Europe, calls for careful forecasts for our business ahead, we see the rare earth market recovering very quickly,” said Lynas, the world’s largest rare earths producer outside China.
Freight demand has spiked during the pandemic, while the blockage of the Suez Canal in March delayed a shipment to April.
Lynas’ output of 4,463 tonnes of rare earth oxide (REO) during the quarter was marginally lower than 4,465 tonnes from a year earlier.