Australian court rules against Fortescue in mining land case

Australia’s federal court sided Thursday with a local indigenous group by ruling that the Yindjibarndi people hold exclusive native rights to the land on which Fortescue Metals Group’s (ASX:FMG) Solomon iron ore mining hub is located.

Ruling paves the way for the Yindjibarndi people to sue the company for hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation claims.

While the decision doesn’t ban Fortescue from continuing to operate the mines, it paves the way for the group to sue the company for hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation claims.

The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation first lodged the claim for exclusive native title in 2003 and has been fighting a bitter battle over land access and royalties from Fortescue since 2007.

Native title expert Richard Bartlett said the "landmark" case would set a precedent for others.

"It certainly is a landmark case with respect to settling compensation in relation to an existing mine, because it will guide us on principles and will be of very great interest in that respect," Professor Bartlett told ABC news.

FMG, the world's fourth biggest iron ore miner, downplayed the significance of the ruling, saying that the court's decision has no impact on the current and future operations or mining tenure at the Solomon Hub.

The Solomon Hub, which includes two iron ore mines, is a key part of Fortescue's operations, producing roughly 70 million tonnes of iron ore a year. The miner total iron ore output is close to 165 million tonnes of iron ore a year.

Shares in Fortescue closed down 3.5% at A$5.19 in Australia following the court ruling.