WALVIS BAY - The 19 000 metric tonnes (MT) of lithium ore lying in the port of Walvis Bay ready for export to China was not mined at Xinfeng’s Omaruru operations, but is from the open-pit mine in the Uis area, it has been revealed.
On that site, Chinese mining firm Xinfeng is partnering with Long Fire Investment.
This development comes after mining commissioner Isabella Chirchir recently enlisted the Namibian Police to block Xinfeng from exporting lithium ore from their Omaruru operations for testing purposes to China, as they did not have a licence to do so.
The mining commissioner said at the time that Xinfeng was in violation of Namibian law, which stipulates that the company must obtain written approval to move any material within the country.
“Xinfeng’s only permits should be in the name of Long Fire Investment CC, and the material or crushed lithium ore should come from mining claims number 73409 to 73418, which are located west of Uis and south of Brandberg – and not from mining licence 243 on the Kohero Farm,” reads part of Chirchir’s letter to the Omaruru police.
However, it has now turned out that the ore stored at the Port of Walvis Bay is from Uis, and not Omaruru.
Long Fire Investments is allowed to transport 26 000 MT lithium ore from Omaruru, as they were granted an export permit for 30 000 MT by the mines ministry in June 2023.
That export permit expires on 15 December. This permission remains subject to the export permit conditions and validity.
As such, the company is not allowed to transport the remaining 6 000 crushed lithium to the port from the Omaruru mine.
Another letter issued by acting mines executive director Bryan Eiseb over a week ago corroborates the version that the ore currently being transported to the port does not come from the Omaruru operations.
“Legal representative of Xinfeng Investment, Nambili Mhata, informed Chirchir that no lithium ore was being transported from Kohero mine by Xinfeng. He (Mhata) further stated that the ore was mined at the Long Fire mining claims in the Uis area. The claims belong to a Namibian. Xinfeng has an agreement with Long Fire to transport lithium ore mined under their mining claims to Kohero mines for the crushing of the ore and subsequent transportation to Walvis Bay port for export purposes,” Eiseb stated in the letter.
He added that the lithium mined at Uis was transported from Long Fire Investment to Kohero, as the crusher at the Uis operations has not been operational since December 2022.
As a result, the mining commissioner stopped the trucks coming from the Omaruru operations.
A meeting was then held between the parties, with the mining commissioner dispatching a team to Kohero mine to verify the information and the quantities of stockpiled lithium ore at that mining site.
“The inspectors established that there are about 8 000 MT of lithium ore, which was transported from the Long Fire mining claims crushed at Kohero, and waiting to be transported to Walvis Bay port for export purposes,” the letter to the police by Eiseb further reads.
He also stated that Long Fire has already transported 19 442 MT of crushed lithium ore to the Walvis Bay port, while vessels are already on their way to transport the lithium.
“The ministry is considering the non-compliance for not having a transport permit by Long Fire. The ministry will, therefore, grant a removal permit to transport approximately 6 000 MT of the stockpiled lithium crushed ore from Kohero mine to the Walvis Bay port during the month of November 2023,” Eiseb said.
Moreover, Long Fire was informed that a removal permit is required to transport lithium ore from the mining claims to Kohero Mine.
Xinfeng Omaruru and the ministry have been engaged in a legal battle centred on mining licence 243, which the ministry initially issued to Xinfeng on 6 September 2022.
The licence was revoked on 29 April, with an instruction for Xinfeng Omaruru to cease all mining operations, leave the mining site, and return the licence by 31 May.
However, soon thereafter, Xinfeng was granted temporary relief by the Windhoek High Court after mines and energy minister Tom Alweendo revoked the company’s lithium mining licence.
The court ruled that the minister lacked the authority to withdraw the mining licence. Although Xinfeng’s legal challenge proved successful, the company has not been authorised to export lithium after a Cabinet directive.
In October, Attorney General (AG) Festus Mbandeka advised the mining commissioner to grant Xinfeng permission to export at least 55 000 MT of lithium ore for “testing purposes”.
The AG made this recommendation after reviewing the court judgement between the ministry and Xinfeng.
“During our consultations, we were informed that the company (Xinfeng) is prepared to provide a new technical report and a new wor plan in full compliance with the applicable provisions of the Act,” Mbandeka said in a letter seen by New Era. He also advised the ministry to consider a provisional withdrawal of a counter-application against Xinfeng for six months while the new technical report and new workplan are being prepared and submitted.
“Should the company fail to prepare and submit such report and workplan within six months, the counter-application may be placed back on the High Court roll for adjudication. In light of the above, I wish to, therefore, propose a face-to-face meeting in the near future between our two offices, together with our key technical officials, to discuss this matter further and explore various options available,” the AG’s letter reads.
Caption: Back-and-forth… The lithium ore currently at the port destined for China for testing purposes.
Photo: Eveline de Klerk