West Africa Ebola outbreak forces miners to lock down operations, delay projects
Miners in West Africa, home to significant reserves of iron ore, gold, bauxite, oil and gas, and other minerals, are increasing efforts to keep Ebola at bay following the World Health Organization (WHO) declaration that the current outbreak has reached the status of an “international public health emergency.”
Companies fear a prolonged disruption of essential supplies and restricted access from employees to remote mining camps will hurt mineral production in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Or worse: that lethal virus will infect their workers and families.
While none of the firms mining, drilling and exploring in the region have reported any cases, several have announced preventative measures. These include reducing access to their sites, monitoring workers and halting non-essential work.
Eight employees at iron ore producer London Mining (LON:LOND) left Sierra Leone and the company imposed travel restrictions in June.
Brazil’s Vale (NYSE:VALE) said in April that its VBG joint venture with BSG Resources, the mining arm of Israeli billionaire Beny Steinmetz's business conglomerate, had pulled its six international staff out of Guinea and put local staff on leave.
Heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) evacuated over the weekend a handful of employees from Liberia, adding it “will continue to monitor the situation closely."
Calgary-based Canadian Overseas Petroleum (TSX-V:XOP), ExxonMobil Corp.’s partner in a venture to explore the Block LB-13 project off the coast of Liberia, has said that drilling will be delayed due to the “reduced presence of expatriates.”
Randgold Resources (LON:RRS), which mines gold in Mali, across the border from Guinea, instructed contractors not to bring any workers from Ebola-affected areas to the company's sites.
World's largest steelmaker ArcelorMittal (NYSE:MT) on Friday announced force majeure on a project that is planned to triple its iron ore production in Liberia because of the epidemic.
AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU) (JSE:ANG), which operates the Siguiri open-pit gold mine in Guinea, is also controlling the movement of workers to and from the mine, only 25 kilometres from the town of the same name, where cases have been reported.
The current outbreak began late March in Guinea, and has spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia, with some cases in Nigeria. The virus spreads by contact, and victims present symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and external bleeding. No cure or vaccine has yet been found for the disease, which death rate in West Africa has been about 50%.