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The tonnage was 3.1% higher than the 82.94 million tonnes achieved in the fourth quarter of 2011, and surpassed even 2012 third quarter’s level.
“This was the first time since 2003 that the performance in a fourth quarter was better than in the third quarter, being 1.9% higher,” Vale said, noting that iron ore output in the last quarter of each year is normally lower than in the third quarter because of seasonal factors.
Below-normal rainfall during the quarter and the beginning of iron ore production in the N5 South mine in Carajás both contributed to the record output, the world’s largest iron ore producer explained.
With 1 billion tonnes of proven and probable reserves and an average Fe content of 67.1%, N5 South is estimated to provide some 25% of run-of-mine (ROM) ores to be extracted from Carajás in 2013, “boosting quality while leading to lower operating costs”, Vale said.
Despite the strong performance in the fourth quarter, total iron ore output in 2012 fell slightly in comparison with 2011, to 319.96 million tonnes from 322.63 million tonnes.
Nevertheless, the full 2012 tonnage is higher than the 312 million tonnes predicted by the miner last year.
In its Northern System, which consists solely of the Carajás operation, Vale produced 106.78 million tonnes last year, down from 109.79 million tonnes in 2011.
Production in the Southeastern system – which comprises the Itabira, Mariana and Minas Centrais operations – fell by 3.8% to 115.58 million tonnes.
Both the Southern and Midwestern Systems recorded increases, however.
Output from the Southern system – comprising Minas Itabirito, Vargem Grande and Paraopeba – increased by 5.3% to 80.3 million tonnes.
The Midwestern system registered a 14.2% boost, to 6.37 million tonnes, on increases at its two operations, Corumbá and Urucum.
Vale also said in its fourth-quarter production report that two iron ore projects will come on stream in the second half of this year, Carajás Additional 40 Mtpy and Conceição Itabiritos.
Carajás Additional 40 Mtpy, as its name suggests, will add 40 million tpy to the Carajás mine at a cost of $3.47 billion, while Conceição Itabiritos will add 12 million tpy in Brazil’s south-eastern state of Minas Gerais through a $1.17 billion investment.
Both projects will contribute to the enhancement of Vale’s iron ore operations, through production increases, higher average Fe grades and lower costs, the miner said.
“These effects on our performance will be material from 2014 onwards,” it added.
Vale’s output of iron ore in the final three months of 2012 was the highest volume recorded in a fourth quarter, at 85.49 million tonnes, the miner said on Friday February 1.