• December 2nd, 2020

Skorpion Zinc mine and refinery confirms ‘care and maintenance’

The Skorpion Zinc mine and refinery in southern Namibia has confirmed it will be placed in care and maintenance in April 2020, which will affect about 1 500 employees. This care and maintenance period overlaps with the lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19; production ramp down at the mine and refinery will happen progressively during April. 

Care and maintenance is a term used in the mining industry to describe processes and conditions when a mine is closed but where there is potential to recommence operations at a later date. During a care and maintenance phase, production is stopped but the site is managed to ensure it remains in a safe and stable condition. 

Skorpion Zinc and the Mineworkers Union of Namibia branch are expected to continue to engage in line with the Labour Act and based on existing agreements.  
Skorpion Zinc, which belongs to Vedanta Zinc International (VZI), last year experienced a major open-pit failure that resulted in an ore gap of four months. This incident required the stoppage of the refinery from November 2019 to January 2020. 

VZI decided to temporarily close the refinery, based on a substantial reduction of ore from its Pit 112, resulting in the operational and financial decision to close the refinery for a few months. 
According to the mine’s spokesperson Nora Ndopu, the failure was safely and successfully mined out. “However, more (smaller) failures have since occurred, with the latest one in January 2020 sterilising a significant portion of the open pit. This has resulted in an ore gap in excess of 10 months. Further technical studies have indicated the existence of similar such failure structures at depth. The safety of all employees is our first value – as a result, the decision has been taken to cease all mining operations, while studies continue to look at feasible ways to make the pit safe for mining options, which would allow for the extraction of the remainder of the accessible ore,” Ndopu explained in a statement. 

Ndopu added that VZI remains focussed on prioritising growth projects to create a sustainable life for SZ and to shorten the care and maintenance gap. She continued that accelerated focus will now be on the Refinery Conversion Project to enable co-treatment of both sulphide and oxide ore, which was originally announced in 2014 with the Gamsberg Phase 1 Project but was deferred due to the Pit 112 life extension. A feasibility study that was completed in 2015 is now being refreshed. VZI acquired SZ as part of the acquisition of Anglo American’s zinc business in 2011. The envisaged life of mine of SZ was then 2014. Ndopu pointed out that SZ has invested significantly since Vedanta took over to extend the life of the pit and explore for mines in the nearby areas, with over US$1.6 billion invested, including US$25 million on exploration alone.  

Said Ndopu: “When VZI embarked on the SZ Pit 112 mine-life extension project in April 2017, the successful completion of the project and thus mine closure and refinery care and maintenance were envisaged for May 2020. However, significant events (pit stability) and inefficiencies (including labour disruptions) during this period have resulted in intermittent stoppages and/or delays which have in turn unfavourably extended the project timeline and significantly eroded project value”.   
– ebrandt@nepc.com.na

Photo: Skorpion
Caption: Shutting down… The refinery at the Skorpion Zinc mine will be placed on care and maintenance during 2020. Production ramp down at the mine and refinery will happen progressively during April. 
Photo: Contributed


Edgar Brandt
2020-03-31 09:06:37 | 8 months ago

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