Ground Breakers: Fatality at BHP railyard shuts Pilbara operations, FMG presses go button on Gabon iron ore
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BHP (ASX:BHP) has called a 24-hour halt to work at its iron ore operations in WA’s Pilbara after a fatality at its Boodarie railyard in Port Hedland.
A worker was struck by a locomotive at around 9.30pm WA time on Tuesday night, BHP’s iron ore chief Brandon Craig said in a statement to media.
It is the third mining-related death this financial year in Western Australia, the country’s resources engine room, and first since fatalities in October at Capricorn Metals’ (ASX:CMM) Karlawinda gold mine and Gold Fields’ St Ives operations.
“It is with deep sadness that we confirm a member of BHP’s WA team was fatally injured in an incident at our rail yard in Port Hedland last night. The person was struck by a locomotive at approximately 9:30pm (WST) on Tuesday, 7 February,” Craig said.
“All of us at BHP are devastated by this tragic event. Of course, that is nothing compared to the grief and loss being felt by the person’s family, friends and colleagues. Our hearts are with them at this time and we will provide any support that we can.
“As a result of this incident, we have suspended WA Iron Ore operations for 24 hours. Counselling services are available for our team members.
“WA Police have attended site and safety regulators including the Office of National Rail Safety have been informed. A full investigation will be undertaken by BHP to understand what has happened.”
Until last night’s incident, BHP had stated in its recent quarterly review it had gone four years without a fatality on its sites.
Andrew Forrest’s Fortescue (ASX:FMG) is known for moving fast.
Whether analysts expected it to move as fast as it has on its Belinga iron ore mine in Gabon we’re not sure.
While similar high grade mines in Africa have been stuck in development hell for years amid ownership squabbles and political agendas FMG says it could be mining ore at a small scale two million tonnes per annum starter mine by the second half of this year.
FMG has placed a capital estimate of ~US$200 million to be invested in the mine over 2023 and 2024, with conventional open pit mining methods to produce the ore, which will be trucked and railed over existing infrastructure to be shipped from Owendo Mineral Port near the Gabon capital of Libreville.
That comes after the announcement a mining convention for what is expected to be a high grade iron ore deposit was signed today through its 80% owned JV Ivindo Iron.
FMG says it has progressively assessed Belinga since 2018, announcing an exclusivity period to study the project in December 2021.
Drilling at the 4500km2 site was only due to begin this quarter, with FMG continuing studies on a larger scale development, though it claims early-stage exploration has shown similar grade and scale characteristics to the famous Simandou orebody at a comparable stage.
Discovered by Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) in the mid-1990s, the 3.8Bt Simandou mine, expected to bring anywhere between 60-200Mtpa of 65% plus DSO to the seaborne market once fully operational, looks to finally be on track for development this year ahead of a March 2025 deadline from the Guinean Government to get it up and running.
Forrest said mapping and sampling programs had “confirmed our initial thoughts that this new West African iron ore hub may well one day prove to be among the largest in the world”.
“The key aspect of this particular geology is its potential to dovetail with Fortescue Pilbara ore blends. In doing so it will preserve and enhance the iron ore industry of both Australia and Gabon,” he said.
“We have enjoyed strong support and positive feedback from local communities. We will continue to work together to maintain Fortescue’s highest standards of environmental and community consultation.
“This emerging iron region is potentially massive. If it fulfils its promise, it will complement our Australian operations through enhancing our blended products, extending our mine lives and opening new global markets.
“Due to its clear and unambiguous industrial leadership away from climate change, FFI has attracted respect from Governments around the world. This support, as indicated by Fortescue’s selection to develop Belinga by the Gabonese government has facilitated Fortescue’s transition to a global green resources, green energy and products company.”
The Gabon Government will have a free-carried 10% stake in the mine’s owner Ivindo Iron, with the other 90% shared 80-20 between FMG and the Africa Transformation and Industrialization Fund, established by Indian born businessman Gagan Gupta.