WEST AFRICA MINING: Sable ‘will’ get rail access, Liberia minister says

Sable Mining will be granted access to one of the most critical infrastructure routes in West Africa, according to Liberia’s deputy minister of mining operations, Sam Russ.

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“it’s not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’,” Russ told Steel First on the sidelines of the West Africa Mining Summit in London on Tuesday April 8.

The Liberian government is in tripartite talks with ArcelorMittal, which operates the Yekepa-to-Buchanan iron ore rail line in LIberia, and UK-listed junior miner Sable Mining over capacity allocation on the country’s arterial iron ore rail line.

“We’re talking to ArcelorMittal and West African Exploration (Sable Mining’s Guinean entity) about rail allocation,” Russ said.

ArcelorMittal currently has sole use of the 250km rail line which runs from the Yekepa mine in the south-east corner of the country to Port Buchanan on the Atlantic Coast. The steelmaker started operations in Liberia in 2006, becoming the country’s first major post-war investor.

The company started exporting iron ore from Yekepa in 2011.

The Yekepa mine is part of the historic iron ore operations run by Swedish-American miner Lamco before Liberia sank into decades of civil war, and ArcelorMittal now produces 5 million toy of ore from Yekepa and is pushing through a second phase of the project, which will see it produce an additional 15 million tpy.

ArcelorMittal has argued that it will use all its rail capacity by the end of 2015, when it’s $1.5 billion expansion plan is complete.

Sable Mining, founded by UK-based mining entrepreneurs Andy Groves and former England cricketer Phil Edmonds, is developing the Nimba iron ore mine in Guinea, just over the border with Liberia and about 50km from the start of the Yekepa rail line.

Sable plans to mine about 5 million tpy once the Nimba mine has ramped up.

Russ said that allowing Guinean iron ore on the line would not only help develop a development corridor along its route, but would cement long-held infrastructure co-operation plans held between the two countries.

“We’ve been waiting for this for 35 years,” said Russ."There’s a lot of potential here.”

West Africa boasts plentiful and rich iron ore deposits, but many remain undeveloped due to a lack of infrastructure.

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