Order to halt Drummond's Colombia coal loading not yet applicable

BOGOTA Sat Jan 4, 2014 5:54pm EST

BOGOTA Jan 4 (Reuters) - U.S.-based coal miner Drummond is able to continue loading coal at its port in Colombia despite a resolution suspending those operations as the resolution still needs to be approved by the environmental licensing agency, an official told Reuters on Saturday.

The local environmental agency in Magdalena province, where Drummond's port is located, ordered the company on Friday to suspend loading of coal onto ships until it met a new law requiring the use of a conveyor belt instead of cranes.

The decision appeared to contradict another last month by the central government of the world's fourth-biggest coal exporter for Drummond to continue loading by crane after a Jan. 1 deadline if it paid a daily fine.

Drummond, Colombia's second-biggest miner of coal, expects to complete construction of its conveyor belt loader by March. The enclosed conveyor belt pours coal directly into ships' holds, a cleaner method than using cranes, which cause dust and lumps of coal to fall into the sea.

Most other large miners in Colombia have already switched to conveyor belt loading or have always used that system.

Corpamag, the public environmental corporation in the coastal province, said its decision was not yet applicable as Drummond's legal representative was absent and had not formally received notification and because the environmental licensing agency, known as ANLA, also needed to approve it.

"ANLA will decide whether it will apply the decision of the Corporation or whether Drummond can continue working," Antonio Martinez Gutierrez, interim director of Corpamag, told Reuters.

The Environment Ministry's decision last month to fine Drummond for each day it loads by crane after Jan. 1 instead of suspending its port operations outright showed the government's will to avoid disruption to its operations. Mining royalties are an important source of government income.

Gutierrez said Corpamag was simply carrying out its duties in demanding that environmental laws be respected, regardless of what arrangements had been made between Drummond and the government.

He could not say whether there was a legal time limit for ANLA to make a decision on Corpamag's order.

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