Aug 8 Mining companies are acting swiftly to
keep the Ebola virus at bay, screening employees and restricting
access to remote mining camps while production ticks over in the
iron ore and gold fields of West Africa.
A prolonged outbreak, however, will threaten mineral
production in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea if essential
supplies are disrupted and employees stay away from work too
Or worse: should a miner or family member contract the
"I think everyone is mindful that it's something that has
the potential to impact businesses," said Mark Bristow, chief
executive of Randgold Resources Ltd, which mines gold in
Mali, across the border from Guinea.
Though it has no mines in countries affected thus far,
Randgold is among several miners in West Africa to have launched
preventive measures against an outbreak that has killed more
than 900 people in four countries.
The World Health Organisation has called the epidemic an
"extraordinary event" that constitutes an international health
risk. There is no known cure for Ebola, which is transmitted
through direct contact with bodily fluids.
The outbreak began in eastern Guinea in February, before
spreading to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Cases have also been
recorded in Nigeria.
Not a single case of Ebola has been recorded among the
employees of those companies mining and exploring large reserves
of oil, iron ore, bauxite and gold in the region. But some have
sent workers home and scaled back or suspended exploration.
Australia-listed Tawana Resources NL, which is
developing the Mofe Creek iron ore project 20 km (12 miles) from
the Liberian coast, said on Friday it was halting non-essential
field work. Its stock fell nearly 19 percent.
"What we have seen now, because of the movements of
non-essential personnel, is that exploration activity is
starting to be curtailed," said Paul Renken, analyst at VSA
Capital, an investment bank focused on natural resources.
Canadian Overseas Petroleum Ltd, ExxonMobil Corp's
partner in a venture to explore the Block LB-13 project
off the coast of Liberia, has said that drilling will be delayed
due to the "reduced presence of expatriates".
Some miners, including Sierra Rutile Ltd and
African Minerals Ltd, are screening staff for early
signs of the virus and running community education programmes.
AngloGold Ashanti Ltd is also controlling the
movement of workers to and from its Siguiri gold mine in Guinea,
only 25 km from the town of the same name, where cases have been
reported, said company spokesman Chris Nthite.
But it will be difficult, if not impossible, for mining
companies throughout West Africa to restrict the movement of
their employees indefinitely.
"If the situation goes on for another two or three months,
then I think we should start to expect problems," said John
Meyer, a mining analyst at brokerage SP Angel.
He said this would be particularly true in the event that
Ebola were to afflict communities that serve the mines, "because
the mines will want to cut themselves off, but the families will
want to be with their breadwinners".
(Additional reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bangalore;
Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Savio D'Souza)