Philippines’ top high-grade nickel ore miner set to shut down

A nickel briquette. Image from Sherritt International

The Philippines’ top exporter of high-grade nickel ore is expected to shut its mining operations soon as ore deposits at a project in the nation’s southernmost province of Tawi-Tawi are nearly depleted, a ministry official told Reuters.

SR Languyan Mining Corp will shut “most likely” later this year, said Jaynul Ali Sambarani, head of mines and geoscience services at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.

The closure will likely reduce the Philippines’ monthly exports of nickel ore to top metals consumer China by 300,000 to 400,000 tonnes, based on estimates by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

“It’s a major supplier of high-grade ores,” MGB Director Wilfredo Moncano told Reuters on Friday.

SR Languyan is not among the large-scale nickel miners under MGB’s jurisdiction, and Moncano could not confirm or deny the shutdown.

SR Languyan Mining is one of more than two dozen nickel ore producers in the Philippines, China’s second-biggest supplier of nickel ores

The mid-sized miner is one of more than two dozen nickel ore producers in the Philippines, China’s second-biggest supplier of nickel ores, which are mostly used in producing stainless steel and for battery materials.

“(SR Languyan’s) mine life is about to end,” Sambarani said in a phone interview. “But it is looking at other prospects near the area.”

A shutdown of SR Languyan would come as the global nickel market is already facing a shortage and the possibility that a ban on exports of Indonesian nickel ore may be imposed sooner than scheduled. Supply concerns pushed nickel prices to 16-month highs last week.

Top nickel ore supplier Indonesia is currently drafting a revision to its mineral ore export rules, with the possibility of moving forward a ban on exports of unprocessed mineral ores that is due to be implemented from 2022.

Sambarani could not provide details about SR Languyan’s latest 2019 output, exports and stockpiles, and company officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Records from the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commision show that SR Languyan was granted a mining permit in 2010 that covers 3,483 hectares (8,606 acres).

The latest available industry data showed Tawi-Tawi was the country’s biggest exporter of high-grade nickel ore to China, with shipments in the first half of 2018 reaching 2.34 million wet metric tonnes, or 88% of total exports of the high-grade material for that period.

In 2017, SR Languyan began exporting high-grade ores to China, with an initial volume of 3.32 million tonnes.

(By Enrico dela Cruz and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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