Gabon starts talks on Belinga mine, plans 2016 tender

Wed May 28, 2014 1:15pm GMT

By Emma Farge

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon has opened initial talks with companies to develop the 1 billion tonne Belinga iron ore deposit and will launch a formal tender process in 2016, the chief executive of the state mining firm told Reuters.

Belinga is one of the world's largest untapped reserves of iron ore, but exporting the ore will not be easy because the deposit is separated from Gabon's Atlantic coast by hundreds of kilometres of dense rainforest.

As in the case of Guinea, which has the huge Simandou iron ore deposit, the reserves have remained in the ground much longer than intended because of a dispute with the former permit holder, China's Comibel.

The dispute was settled in November last year, and Gabon said it agreed to pay Comibel's expenses. [ID:nL6N0K006J]

Gabon's government has commissioned a study of the site to confirm its potential, which some people in the government say could contain much more than the official 1 billion tonne estimate.

Iron ore prices have dropped in the last two years, however, which has cooled mining companies' interest in developing big, risky, greenfield projects.

"The final announcement (on the study) will be made in 2016, and this is when we start the process to auction the asset out. But in the meantime, we are having conversations with serious parties who are interested," Societe Equatoriale des Mines (SEM) CEO Fabrice Nze-Bekale said in an interview, without naming the parties.

Mines Minister Regis Immongault Tatagani said last week that the government aimed for exploitation to begin in 2024 or 2025. He confirmed that it was committed to exporting the iron ore via a railway line to Gabon's new deep-sea port at Port-Gentil.   Continued...

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