Project Focus

HIGH PROFILE Steely determination At the Mining Indaba in Cape Town in February, John Chadwick discussed Gabon’s mining potential and vigorous growth plans for the industry with Fabrize Nze-Bekale, CEO of Soc Equatoriale de Mines (SEM) EM was formed by Presidential decree in 2011 to facilitate the development of Gabon’s mineral resources. It is a private company, wholly owned by the Government of Gabon and technically assisted by the Ministry of Mines. Any mine developed in the country today will involve at least a 10% shareholding for SEM. Initially, SEM’s activities are focused on expanding and developing strategic national minerals. He explains, “This is a young and ambitious company with missions that include developing and exploiting mining rights in Gabon and abroad, on its own or in partnership. We are involved in many activities and we favour technical and financial partnerships for the purpose of developing promising projects. “SEM has formed many partnerships and signed memorandums of understanding with multinational and junior companies in the sector.” The country has a reasonable tradition of mining with numbers of experienced personnel. A mining school is due to open in September 2016. The Moanda Mining and Metallurgy School is being established with funding largely coming from Eramet. Today mining contributes 6% to GDP but as Nze-Bekale explains, the target is to raise this to 25% within 15 years. “We just need one big new iron ore mine to achieve this.” Bélinga in the northeast of the country is the most important of the country’s iron ore deposits, containing more than 1,000 Mt of ore grading more than S 00 International Mining | MAY 2015 60% Fe with potential DSO which amounts to a few hundred million tons. Bélinga was being developed by Chinese interests and was due to commence mining in 2011, but due to lack of activity, the rights were withdrawn. Nze-Bekale is keen to breathe life back into this project. The other known deposits, Milingui in the southwest, Lobi Lobi in the central southeast of Gabon, and Mounts M’bilan are smaller at this stage with some 200 Mt at the latter being the biggest resource calculated thus far. Manganese is the backbone of the mining industry of Gabon. There are four mines in the country with Eramet’s Comilog much the biggest player. Gabon is currently the world’s third largest producer of manganese behind South Africa and Australia. Of Gabon’s total production, 95% goes to the steel industry. The deposits are mostly located in the south-east of the country in the Francevillian basin of Proterozoic age. Compagnie minière de l’Ogooué (Comilog) is Gabon’s second-largest company and manganese is the country’s second-biggest export. Including Setrag (Transgabonais railway) personnel, the Eramet Group employs almost 2,900 people in Gabon. SEM owns 28.45% of the shares of Comilog. Production is set to achieve 4 Mt/y this year. The mine in Moanda (Comilog), in the southeast of the country, provides nearly 25% of world production. The deposit contains reserves estimated at more than 150 Mt with an average Gold exploration work in progress at Camp 6 grade around 44%. The Complexe Métallurgique de Moanda, a modern metallurgical complex has just been completed there. It comprises a silicomanganese plant with an annual capacity of 65,000 t and a 20,000-t/y manganese metal plant, as well as the related infrastructure. Of smaller size, the Bembélé’s deposit, located in the north of Ndjolé in central Gabon, has been mined since 2011 by the Chinese company CICMHZ. Inferred reserves are 30 Mt of run-of mine ore grading 33% and production is around 500,000 t/y. There are other prospects, especially the Okondja deposit located 135 km north of Franceville. Inferred resources in Lebayi, the main body, are roughly 16.4 Mt with a grade of 30.7%. The other ore bodies require more exploration. An 85:15 (SEM) joint venture was established on this project last June with Navodaya Trading – Gabon Manganese and Ferro Alloy (GMFA). It plans to build a ¤12 million processing plant at Okondja. The Yéyé deposit contains 2.6 Mt and requires additional investigation, while initial assessment of the Mbigou deposit is in progress. Eramet also owns 60% of the Maboumine project, which aims to develop a significant deposit of niobium and rare earths in Gabon. SEM and OCP signed a technical and scientific cooperation agreement to build a $2.3 billion fertiliser plant with an annual production capacity of 2 million of tons. The plant is to be commissioned in 2018/2019. Nze-Bekale is very actively promoting the country’s gold potential. Morocco’s Managem operates the Bakoudou mine, 600 km from Libreville and a little over 90 km south of Mouanda. This is a 75:25 joint venture with SEM with a production capacity of 45,000 oz/y of gold. Managem is also exploring Eteké near the central western town of Mouila where resources of 500,000 oz have been estimated. Goldstone Resources is working on the Oyem Fabrize Nze-Bekale, CEO of Soc Equatoriale de Mines (SEM)