* Ramu nickel mine construction stops after fight
* Year-end mine start still achievable
* Misunderstanding over injured worker behind violence
(Adds details, background, quotes)
PORT MORESBY, May 11 A December 2009 target to
complete the $1.7 billion Ramu nickel mine in Papua New Guinea
was still achievable despite a halt to construction due to
fighting among workers, an Australia partner said on Monday.
Construction at an ore processing plant was stopped on
Friday after violence erupted over concerns about a worker
injured in an industrial accident, according to John Gooding,
managing director of 8.56 percent owner Highlands Pacific Ltd
The project is majority-owned by China Metallurgical
Construction Group Corp and is being designed to supply
stainless steel mills in China.
Production is forecast by China Metallurgical at 31,150
tonnes of nickel plus 3,000 tonnes of cobalt annually, with
start-up in late 2009.
Gooding said there was damage to vehicles and buildings and
a number of Chinese workers required treatment, although the
project's start date was so far unchanged.
"We're still being told by the Chinese partner that they
will start the commissioning process by the middle of
December," Gooding told Reuters by telephone from Brisbane.
The situation was now calm, with a number of police on at
the mine site investigating the incident.
It is expected that construction work will restart shortly
and that there will be no significant delay to the project
timeline, however the the full impact of the incident was still
not known, according to Gooding.
Construction at the mine has been plagued by disputes with
local workers. China Metallurgical has been accused by PNG
officials of forcing locals to work in sub-standard conditions.
Last August, local labourers attacked Chinese workers and
shut the gates to the project over working conditions in the
isolated site on the side of a jungle-clad mountain.
In February 2009, PNG's labour department said conditions
violated labour laws, citing inadequate food, sanitary
facilities and housing. The department in May said it was now
satisfied that conditions had improved.
But the latest fighting was not over work conditions but
rumours of a death at the site involving a Papua New Guinean
worker. Gooding said the employee was only injured and was
recovering in a hospital in the town of Madang.
"The Basamuk Landowner Association Chairman (where the
process plant is located), the Mineral Resource Authority and
the provincial government, have all condemned the incident and
are very supportive towards the manager and operator," Ramu
NiCo Management (MCC) Limited," said Gooding.
(Reporting by James Regan and Michael Perry; )