[Philippines Nickel Laterite Mining] King Of Ore: Despite Nickel Asia’s Raids, Zamora Did Not Retreat (Forbes Magazine – August 26, 2015)


Jose Anievas still remembers Oct. 3, 2011 quite vividly. Early in the morning that fateful Monday, the chief operating officer of [prisoners of war] was seized by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who raided the company’s sprawling open-pit mining site in Claver, Surigao del Norte in Mindanao.

“We were being lectured on how POWs [prisoners of war] should behave when we noticed thick smoke rising in the sky,” recalls Anievas, then the resident manager at Nickel Asia’s Taganito mine, the Philippines’ biggest nickel producer last year: About 200 NPA men and women descended on the mine and burned construction cranes, hauling trucks, barges and four buildings.

The rebels did a lot of damage–about $11 million worth of assets went up in smoke. But they failed to destroy the foundation and steel framework of the nickel refinery being built by Sumitomo and Mitsui & Co. in partnership with Nickel Asia.

The NPA members took hostages, including Anievas, an experienced mining engineer who was forced to march with the rebels deep into the forest. The hostages were used as human shields to keep away pursuing government troops. Their agony lasted almost ten hours. It was nightfall when they were released in a densely forested mountain ridge.

The NPA raid threatened the Philippines’ single biggest mining investment in decades. Costing an initial $1.3 billion, the Taganito High Pressure Acid Leach Plant (THPAL) project allows the company to process mining wastes and low-grade nickel ore into high-value nickel compounds. The refinery’s output will go into the production of stainless steel and other alloys that can resist many corrosive substances.

The refinery was expected to help cement the Philippines’ position as one of the world’s leading sources of nickel. From 13th place in 1998, the Philippines rose to become the third-highest lateritic nickel ore-producing country in the world after Indonesia and Russia in 2011.

In 2014, following Indonesia’s decision to ban the export of unprocessed nickel ores and sanctions against Russia’s biggest nickel miner, the Philippines became the top nickel producer, accounting for 18% of global supply.

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