Johannesburg - Heavy rains and high moisture are hampering ArcelorMittal’s efforts to ship iron ore out of Liberia, a tropical west African country where it is ramping up output, a company official said on Wednesday.
Iron ore shipments can liquefy while on ships if the moisture content is too high, raising the risk of the cargo shifting and capsizing the vessel.
“This is one of the challenges that we had not completely anticipated,” Joseph Matthews, Head of Government and Community Relations for ArcelorMittal Liberia, told Reuters on the sidelines of a conference organised by Metal Bulletin.
“Yes, it has impacted our shipment, this is one issue that we haven’t completely got a grip on. We simply cannot load with the vessels open (in the rain),” he said when asked about moisture impacting the transport of iron ore from Liberia.
Matthews said the company had taken measures to mitigate the impact of the high moisture during the rainy season, for example by covering all of its stocks of ore at the port and also by looking to improve the processing operation.
Industry sources have said high moisture content is also making the transport of iron ore from Liberia’s neighbor Sierra Leone unsafe, causing extensive loading delays.
The International Maritime Organisation has guidelines governing moisture content in iron ore.
In Liberia, Matthews said the company had been targeting three shipments of iron ore a month but that had been reduced to one to two because of wet weather. He said the company hoped to raise that to four with the onset of the dry season.
Matthews did not provide any revised output target figures for the company’s Liberian iron ore operations.
ArcelorMittal had been aiming for 4 million tonnes per year of iron ore from its Yekepa mine in Nimba County from 2012, rising to 10-15 million tonnes per year by 2014 or 2015.
Liberia, with huge mining and agriculture potential, has attracted billions of dollars in resource investment since the end of a 1989-2003 civil war, but its infrastructure remains in ruins and most of its 4 million people live in poverty.