Liberia ‘committed’ to Guinea iron ore transport agreement, president says

Liberia is committed to allowing iron ore from Guinea to be shipped through its ports, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said at a meeting between members of the two governments last week.

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A Guinean government delegation visited Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city, to discuss infrastructure cooperation on March 20, according to a statement released by President Sirleaf’s office.

The delegation included Guinea’s new mining minister, Kerfalle Yansane. They were in Monrovia to present the technical plans for development of UK-listed miner Sable Mining’s Nimba iron ore mine in Guinea.

Sable Mining’s partner, West African Minerals, made a formal presentation to the both governments in Monrovia, explaining how it planned to proceed with the project.

Sable was given approval in October 2013 to export ore through Liberia from Nimba, which is less than 50km from Guinea’s border with Liberia and only 40km from the Yekepa-to-Buchanan rail line.

“Unless we are able to put our natural resources to work in an effective, transparent and effective way, we will not be able to achieve our transformational goals,” Sirleaf said, emphasising the importance of collaboration between the two countries.

Liberia’s inter-ministerial concession committee has been tasked with leading third-party discussions to form a binding infrastructure development agreement for the use and development of Liberian rail and port facilities.

Rail capacity
Securing space on the Yekepa line will be an important milestone for Sable Mining and its local partner, West Africa Exploration (WAE).

Guinea’s government has insisted that Rio Tinto transport iron ore mined at its project in Guinea through the country, in a bid to create a 650km-plus development corridor.

The cost of developing the mine and building the rail line, which will traverse difficult terrain and virgin rainforest, has been estimated at close to $20 billion.

Rio Tinto holds the rights to mine half the Simandou iron ore concession, one of the world’s largest untapped resources of the raw material.

As Simandou is located several hundred kilometres north of Nimba, the Liberian exit route represents a quicker and cheaper transport solution than the trans-Guinean route, sources told Steel First.

The Guinean government said that it had allowed Sable to transport ore through Liberia due to the relatively small size of the project and the grade of its ore.

ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, operates the reconditioned, state-owned railway that runs to the deep-water port at Buchanan on the Atlantic coast.

According to a 2006 agreement between ArcelorMittal and the Liberian government, any spare capacity on the rail line and at Buchanan iron ore port can be granted to a third party.

ArcelorMittal is increasing ore output and expects to produce 20 million tpy by the end of 2015.