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Grasberg could stay shut for two months after Indonesia minister calls for halt

Indonesia’s mines minister has ordered Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold (NYSE: FCX) not to restart production at its Grasberg copper-gold mine until the result of a probe into recent accidents at the mine is complete.

Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold (NYSE: FCX) Indonesia Grasberg. Click for full size image.

Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold’s Grasberg mine is the world’s largest gold mine and third largest copper mine.

Reuters quotes Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry director of minerals Dede Suhendra as saying: “(Freeport must) stop all production activities except for maintenance until the results of the independent investigation are completed.”

An official from the Phoenix, Arizona-based company confirmed the order and added the independent investigation is expected to take two months.

Freeport halted most operations at the mine in the remote Indonesian province of West Papua on May 15 after a tunnel collapse killed 28 workers.

The suspension of production follows another accident on Friday when a truck driver was left with critical injuries, which led union reps to call for a complete work stoppage.

Grasberg is the world’s largest gold and third-largest copper mine with a history that dates back to the 1930s.

Copper traders have raised concern whether the miner will default on shipments, especially since the firm has declined to release data about stockpile sizes.

The stoppage has also raised questions about expansion plans for an underground mine given the May 14 tunnel collapse and ongoing contract extension negotiations between the Indonesian government and Freeport, which wants to operate past 2021.

The storied mine has been the jewel in the crown of Freeport for decades and the $29 billion company keeps a tight grip on the project despite frequent worker strikes, occasional outbreaks of sectarian violence and political interference.

Copper was changing hands for $3.27 a pound on Friday, down 9.4% since the start of the year, amid concerns of a rise in supply.