Iron ore wars: the fall of Vale and the rise of Rio Tinto – by JP Casey (Mining-Technology – May 5, 2020)

In the wake of the Brumadinho dam tragedy, Vale has lost its position as the world’s top iron ore producer. We consider what contributed to its decline, and how Rio Tinto has taken advantage of its struggles to become the industry’s new iron ore leader.

Vale has finally lost its position as the world’s largest iron miner. The Brazilian mining giant saw its production crater in 2019, as the tragic impacts of a collapsed tailings dam at its Brumadinho operation were felt across the iron ore sector. 300 people were killed or left missing by the disaster, sparking internal investigations and external outrage as Vale’s reputation crumbled.

While the human cost of the disaster is the most significant impact, there have been a number of financial and operational effects for Vale, and few of them positive. The miner’s total iron ore output was 301,972 million tonnes in 2019, 21.5% lower than in 2018, with a decline of 55.2% at its Southern System projects leading the way.

This decline has hampered the company’s ability to both aid recovery efforts in the wake of the disaster, and rebuild its own shattered mining empire, opening the door for a new leader in the iron ore sector.

Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto has filled this gap, posting annual production totals of 327,400 million tonnes at its Pilbara operations in Western Australia last year.

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