By Shapi Shacinda
LUSAKA, March 21 (Reuters) – Zambia’s largest cobalt producer Chambishi Metals Plc aims to restart production within two months after its managers complete arrangements to buy raw materials, its CEO Derek Webbstock said on Saturday.
Webbstock told reporters that the company’s operations, which were placed under care and maintenance in December, would restart once deals for copper concentrate were concluded with local mines and mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Chambishi’s owners Luanshya Copper Mines (LCM) also operated the closed Baluba copper mine. Luanshya is in turn owned by Bein Sten Group Resources (BSGR) and International Mineral Resources (IRM), which said they were making losses due to low copper prices.
Webbstock said China’s NFC Africa was the frontrunner to buy LCM units, Baluba and the Greenfield Mulyashi project, which had the potential to produce up to 100,000 tones of copper per year.
“We are going to keep Chambishi and we are talking to (mines in) the DRC and hopefully within two months, if we can have contracts from DRC and within Zambia, we will get concentrate coming from the Congo,” Webbstock, who is also CEO of Luanshya, said. “We hope Chambishi will be up and running in two months.”
BSRG and IRM would retain Chambishi Metals Plc, which had employed 900 workers, of which 500 to 600 would be re-employed.
Chambishi produced about 2,500 tones of cobalt before its closure although its owners had wanted to raise output to about 3,400 tones. It had also planned to produce 20,000 tones of B-grade copper.
Webbstock said BSRG and IRM would exit other LCM units once LCM had finalized repayment of about $100 million the firm owed its shareholders and other creditors.
“My liabilities are about $100 million at the moment and since shareholders (may) have no recourse to their money, the next investor may get it for free, but I see somebody paying between $30 million to $40 million for the assets,” he said.
The Mulyahsi project, which LCM had planned to complete building in 2010 at a cost of $354 million and would have produced up to 60,000 tones in its initial stage, was the future of the LCM units, he said.
“Any investor that wants to buy LCM must look seriously at developing Mulyashi; it’s the future of Luanshya.”
“NFC (Africa) have had intensive studies on Luanshya and since NFC operates in the country, I would assume that they have significant (Chinese) government backing and so they stand a greater chance to buy Luanshya,” Webbstock said.
Zambia‘s Mines and Minerals Development Minister Maxwell Mwale said on Thursday that NFC Africa, Britain’s Lion Finance, working in partnership with a local firm Madini Copper Resources, and Shanduka Group of South Africa were looking to buy the LCM assets.
Webbstock said bids for Luanshya would close in mid-April. (Reporting by Shapi Shacinda; editing by David Stamp)
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