Tuesday, 29 May 2012 07:49

Seafloor phosphate mining in prospect off Namibia

JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The proposed seafloor phosphate mining project in Namibia will be undertaken in an environmentally responsible and sensitive manner, Namibian Marine Phosphate project GM David Wellbeloved assures.

Technology is available to ensure minimal environmental interference and the phosphate mining planned will be even more sensitive to the environment than current diamond marine mining in the area, says Wellbeloved, himself a yachting enthusiast and sea lover.

"We believe that because this is deep, it exists from the 185 m mark down to about the 300 m mark, we are not really in the abundantly active zone of the sea. Our impact will be minimal," he tells Mining Weekly Online.

But environmental groups continue to question the findings on which this view is based.

Wellbeloved's retort is that Namibian Marine Phosphate will not be mining to bedrock but will leave part of the phosphate deposit untouched in order to allow ocean life to regenerate without having to change habitat.

However, environmental lobby group Swakopmund Matters says that the present project studies submitted for the environmental-impact assessment are lacking in information.

Capital cost to first production for a three-million-ton operation are estimated at $326-million.

Namibian Marine Phosphate is a joint venture (JV) between ASX- and TSX-listed Minemakers (42.5%), ASX-listed UCL Resources (42.5%) and the Namibian-registered Tungeni Investments (15%).

The Sandpiper deposit was originally held by Bonaparte Minerals and there continue to be offers and counter offers within the JV itself.

The strong Australian shareholding has also prompted Namibian environmental lobby groups to point to the moratorium on ocean mining that has been declared in Australia's Northern Territory.

Wellbeloved argues, however, that the Australian plan to explore for manganese between Australia's Groot Eyland and the mainland is fraught with conflicting vested interests and cannot be compared with the plan to marine mine phosphates in Namibia.

In addition to complying with all Namibian environmental regulations and best practices, the developers will implement a programme of continually monitoring and measuring the project's impact.

"We believe that both the fishing industry and the mining industry can coexist," he adds.

The Namibia Marine Phosphate mining concession contains 1.8-billion tons of phosphate and it is a loosely unconsolidated sandy material on the seafloor.

There is no overburden to remove, no shafts to sink and a suction hopper dredge vessel will be chartered from Jan De Nul to mine the seabed.

The 230 m boat trails an arm behind it, drawing up the phosphate as it moves and dewatering the material and storing it on board.

On shore, the material is pumped into a holding pond and treated.

Three such cycles a week are envisaged, each cycle bringing in some 70 000 t of material.

"We could be in production by the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014," Wellbeloved tells Mining Weekly Online in a video interview (see attached).

The material comes in at 18% to 19% phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5), which screening and washing can beneficiate to between 27% and 28% commercial grade P2O5.

"Ultimately, beyond that, we're looking at single super phosphates and phosphoric acid production," he says.

The project will be funded in a ratio of 50% equity and 50% debt.

"We don't see a problem with the financing. There's a big appetite for phosphate projects at the moment," he adds.

The company is aiming at a 10% market share of the traded phosphate market of 30-million tons a year.

The first phase of the 30-year life-of-mine will create 150 direct jobs and another 200 indirect jobs from a turnover of $300-million a year.

Moroccan phosphate is currently selling at some $200/t and Namibian Marine Phosphate expects to be able to sell its product, which is of slightly lower grade, at about $145/t.

To watch the interview click here>>

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