After the signing of a prospecting agreement a few months ago between Fortescue Metals and the Gabonese state, the two protagonists signed an exploration agreement on Tuesday 7 February. As a result, Ivindo Iron SA, a joint venture between Fortescue and Gabon, will begin mining the Belinga iron ore deposit sooner than expected. Its potential could be at least equivalent to that of the Simandou mine in Guinea Conakry.
Gabon and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, through their joint venture Ivindo Iron SA (Ivindo Iron), signed a mining convention on Tuesday 7 February to exploit the Belinga iron ore project located in the Ogooué-Ivindo province in central Gabon. The exploitation is planned for the second half of this year 2023.
The mining agreement signed on Tuesday covers all legal, fiscal and regulatory aspects of the 4,500 square kilometre Belinga project. Initially, production could amount to two million tonnes per year. However, studies suggest that production on a much larger scale is possible.
Possibly one of the world’s largest iron deposits
« The geological mapping and sampling programmes have confirmed our initial feeling that the Belinga iron mine may one day prove to be one of the world’s largest, » said Andrew Forrest, founder and chairman of Fortescue Capital, adding that « this emerging iron region has enormous potential. »
About US$200 million will be raised for the first phase of operations. But eventually the total investment could be more than $10 billion, says a source close to the matter.
The Belinga iron mine will have a significant impact on the rest of the country’s economy. The ore will be transported by truck and rail on existing roads and rail infrastructure and shipped from the ore port of Owendo, near Libreville. In total, the authorities expect to create more than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs.
In addition, the Belinga iron ore mine will be operated in accordance with the strictest environmental standards, according to the project promoters. Gabon is considered to be at the forefront in this area and is particularly demanding and fussy about this aspect.
Manganese and now iron
For the past ten years or so and the election of Ali Bongo Ondimba as president, Gabon has been forcing its economy into the post-oil era. This involves the diversification of its economy. In this process, timber and now mining occupy a central place. Gabon is already one of the world’s leading producers of manganese. With Belinga, it could also become an important player in iron production on the world market.
This is the feeling of this Australian expert. « Gabon has become an important player in the sector in the space of ten years. In the long term, it could well become a mining superpower. »