August 30, 2012 / 12:20 PM / in 6 years

Gabon's Belinga iron ore deal to be awarded as late as 2014

PERTH, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Gabon may not award its Belinga concession before 2014, a government minister said on Thursday, after the African country opted to reassess how much iron ore the deposit contains, in the latest in a series of delays to plague the project.

China’s CMEC, which had secured rights to Belinga with a 2007 deal, lost the concession following concerns about the environmental impact of the project and then over whether CMEC would be able to deliver.

“One of the commitments was for the Chinese to work as rapidly as possible and to get into production. Unfortunately, the Chinese did not meet the expectations of the government,” Regis Immongault, the minister of industry and mines told Reuters at a mining industry conference in Perth, Australia.

“Now the government has decided to do an additional evaluation of the resources of this deposit ... with the objective of having a precise idea of the resource.”

The government evaluation of the iron ore deposit may take up to 18 months or by 2014, Immongault said, but added that it could be done as early as next year.

In February, a government official had told Reuters that the Belinga concession had been awarded to BHP Billiton, but BHP declined to comment.

Immongault, however, said the concession would only be awarded after the reassessment of the iron ore deposit.

“After this evaluation, we will have a round table with the interested partners to see how we can go ahead with the development phase of the project, and the Chinese will be part of this round table,” Immongault said.

“The desire of the head of state is to have a good partner to permit so this (iron ore) deposit can be developed in the correct way.”

Gabon is evaluating tenders from consultants for the assessment of the iron ore deposit, he said.

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