Up to $2.91 billion frozen for Vale after dam failure in Brazil

The Brazilian miner Vale had 11 billion Reais ($2.91 billion) blocked by local judges following the rupture and flood at one of its tailings dams at the Córrego do Feijão mine, while the company is also already subject to fines of up to 349 million Reais.

Three separate rulings in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais over the weekend accepted complaints from the state’s administration and prosecutors’ office to freeze 11 billion Reais from Vale.

Additionally, the federal environmental agency Brazilian Environment and Renewable Natural Resources Institute (IBAMA) sanctioned Vale with a 250 million Reais fine after the incident. Minas Gerais has also announced a 99.14 million Reais penalty.

The company had $6.11 billion of cash in September, according to its earnings report from the third-quarter 2018, 49% of which is now either frozen or going toward paying the fines.

On January 25, one of the Feijão mine’s tailings dams collapsed, flooding Vale’s own facilities and nearby communities. The accident hit the Feijão mine’s facilities, including a loading terminal, maintenance workshops, administrative buildings and some of the road access to the mine, it added.

The Paraopeba complex – which comprises of the Córrego do Feijão mine, four other iron ore operations and two beneficiation plants – is Vale’s second-largest complex in its Southern system. While the mines integrated in the complex produced 27.3 million tonnes of iron ore in 2018, the Feijão mine alone was responsible for 8.5 million tonnes of that production volume in 2018.

The supply disruption arising from the accident, albeit minor given the size of the seaborne market, could boost iron ore prices, market participants said.

Fastmarkets’ 62% Fe price index reached $78.18 per tonne on January 28, up from $74.69 per tonne on January 25 and the highest since March 2, 2018, following the news of the incident at the dam.

Dam I in Feijão, the one that failed, was undergoing decommissioning before the disaster and had no longer been receiving waste material since 2015, according to the miner.

Vale had statements of security and stability for the dam – citing that any risk of a rupture was small – issued in June and September 2018 from the Brazilian branch of audit firm TÜV SÜD, the company said.

This is the second disaster that has hit Vale since late 2015. The Fundão tailings dam at the Samarco mine in Mariana, also in Minas Gerais, ruptured and flooded the Rio Doce basin in November 2015. The Samarco mine is a 50:50 joint venture between Vale and BHP.

“[The company] engaged in various actions after the Samarco accident to check the stability and safety of its dams,” Vale’s chief executive officer Fabio Schvarstman said at a press conference on January 25.

“[The latest] dam failure could lead to increased government scrutiny or disfavor when it comes to issuing needed permits for Samarco to resume operations,” New York-based Cowen & Co’s analysts Tyler Kenyon and Matthew Barry said in a note on January 25.

The Brazilian federal government assigned a special committee to handle the case and help the fire department and civil defence to search for people.

The latest update from authorities said 60 people are confirmed dead and 292 more are missing.