Chinese copper cathode buyers fobbed off with sand-filled cargoes

A few containers of non-registered copper cathode from Africa were found to be filled with sand upon arrival in China, Fastmarkets learned.

The containers, each carrying over 100 tonnes of refined copper originally, departed from the port of Beira in Mozambique and were headed to China in the past two months.

The containers of copper cathode, which belong to two parties - one Africa-based copper producer and one Asian trading house - were broken into at the port of Beira, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.

In July, the logistics issues in South Africa led to the diversion of Asia-bound metal cargoes to other African ports including Beira, Walvis Bay in Namibia and to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania.

Thieves are said to have removed the copper cathode from the containers and then filled the containers with sand of a similar weight, a second source said.

The incident has been reported to the police in Mozambique and the investigation is still ongoing, the first source said.

The alleged theft has come at a time when copper has become one of the top performers in the base metals complex in the past two months. For example, the London Metal Exchange three-month copper price hit a fresh 2020 high of $6,707 per tonne on Wednesday August 19 due to positive macro dynamics.

The news of the copper theft is said to have dealt a blow to buyers’ confidence in booking copper cargoes from Africa, which is a key source of equivalent-grade copper cathode to China, sources told Fastmarkets.

Fastmarkets’ copper EQ cathode premium, cif Shanghai plummeted to a five-month low at $10-20 per tonne on Tuesday August 25, compared to $25-35 per tonne a fortnight prior.

The drop is in line with the decline in the cif Shanghai premium for registered cathodes, which is also at its lowest level since March 2020.

Fastmarkets’ benchmark grade-A cathode premium, cif Shanghai stood at $50-70 per tonne on Tuesday, compared to $65-82 per tonne at the start of August.

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