Glencore’s Koniambo nickel plant reopens after early morning blockade

Koniambo Nickel SAS, 49%-owned by commodity firm Glencore, has reopened after being subject to a blockade by protesters at its New Caledonia nickel plant at 3.30am local time on Wednesday July 10.

Fifty local inhabitants descended on the Vavouto-based plant to demand jobs at the site, which is currently attempting to ramp-up refined nickel production after first-quarter production in 2019 declined by 24% year on year to 5,000 tonnes.

The current status of negotiations is unclear but plant management has issued a statement saying the plant’s nickel production would not be affected by the blockade.

Koniambo management also stipulated that the site must be allowed to reopen before negotiations with the protesters, led by the head of the neighboring Oundjo tribe, could begin.

This protest action is the latest in a series of obstacles for the Glencore-owned plant, though is the first not to affect nickel output.

A leak at the same plant on June 24 led to a loss of 10 tonnes of molten material. A similar leak occurred in the same location in 2014, leading to a loss of 500 molten tonnes and affecting Koniambo’s nickel production for several months.

And production at the plant remains under pressure. Koniambo produced just 5,000 tonnes of refined nickel from ferro-nickel in the first quarter of 2019, down 24% from the corresponding period of 2018, according to Glencore’s production report.

It had produced 28,300 tonnes of refined nickel from ferro-nickel in 2018, up 16% from 17,500 tonnes in 2017.

Parent company Glencore produced 27,100 tonnes of nickel metal across its nickel-producing assets in the first quarter of 2019, down 10% from the corresponding period of 2018, according to the production report which the company partially attributed to maintenance at Koniambo.

Statistics from the International Nickel Study Group (INSG) show the global deficit in refined nickel in January-February 2019 shrank by 13,000 tonnes to 5,700 tonnes from 18,700 tonnes for the same period of 2018, painting a loosening picture for nickel.

LME nickel stocks are 153,612 tonnes as of July 10, their lowest since February 2013.

Glencore’s 2018 nickel production was 123,800 tonnes, 13% higher than 2017, mainly reflecting Koniambo running two production lines throughout the year.