Shippers say Sierra Leone iron ore transport risky

Mon Nov 5, 2012 1:04pm GMT

By Jonathan Saul and Simon Akam

LONDON/FREETOWN (Reuters) - High moisture content is making the transport of iron ore from Sierra Leone unsafe, causing extensive loading delays and could raise shipping costs for miners operating in the country, industry sources said.

African Minerals and London Mining are the only two iron ore miners operating in the West African country, which has tried to boost output, 10 years after the end of a civil war which left some 50,000 dead.

Ship insurer the London P&I Club said vessels were being offered for loading in Sierra Leone, but it described the cargo as unsafe due to high moisture content which could lead to liquefaction of the mineral.

Liquefaction has, in some instances, resulted in ships becoming unstable and led to them capsizing and sinking.

Limited local expertise and technology, together with poor communications, are exacerbating the problem, the insurer said.

"West Africa is affected by rainy seasons and there is a lot of moisture around. People are very sensitive when it comes to any bulk cargo with high moisture. Safety is paramount and shipping companies can't take chances with people's lives," an industry source with knowledge of the situation added.

"This is potentially very serious for the miners. If ship owners won't load product, that's a critical concern for producers. They will have to at least pay more to transport cargoes because less people are available to take it, if they find somebody available to take it at all."

Although both shippers in Sierra Leone, were aware of their obligations under an international code and appeared to be trying to avoid offering cargo that was wet or with inadequate certification, the London Club said it expected some difficulties to persist, particularly as both shippers plan to increase their export volumes.   Continued...

Stockpiles of iron ore at the Rio Tinto Parker Point ship loading terminal in the Pilbara region of West Australia is seen in this handout photograph obtained February 11, 2010. REUTERS/Rio Tinto/Handout
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