Rio Tinto (ASX, LON, NYSE: RIO) will shut one of four furnaces at its Richards Bay Minerals (RBM) sand business in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, due to depleted stockpiles of feedstock as operations remain halted since late June.
The company suspended mining at RBM, in which it has a 74% stake, because of concerns about safety following the murder of the top manager a month earlier. Worsening conditions forced the world’s second biggest miner to declare force majeure on RBM customer contracts on June 30.
“RBM will regularly reassess the situation to make further decisions on any potential restart or the shutting of the other furnaces, depending on when the safety and security position improves,” it said Wednesday.
The decision to shut one furnace will reduce the call on the stockpile and limit the long-term impacts of a shutdown on the RBM’s furnaces, the company noted.
The move, said Rio’s chief executive, minerals, Sinead Kaufman, will have a major impact on the business and broader community. “It is not a decision we have taken lightly,” he said.
RBM is one of the largest businesses in KwaZulu-Natal, where rioting and looting broke out earlier this month, and is the largest taxpayer in the province.
It produces predominantly ilmenite, rutile and zircon – materials used in everything from paint to smart phones to sunscreen.
On May 24, Nico Swart, a general manager for mining operational services at Richards Bay Minerals, was fatally shot on his way to work, an earlier statement from the Rio Tinto subsidiary said. The operations subsequently faced arson attacks and theft.