Guinea approves SMB-Winning deal for Simandou iron mine project

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea’s government approved on Thursday a basic agreement for the development of its giant Simandou iron ore project by a consortium representing Chinese, French and Singaporean interests, the mines minister told Reuters.

The consortium - which includes Société Minière de Boké (SMB) and Singapore’s Winning Shipping as well as Guinean government interests - won a $14 billion tender last November to develop blocks 1 and 2 of the largest known deposit of its kind, holding more than 2 billion tonnes of high-grade ore.

On Tuesday, its development agreement “was approved. We will proceed to sign it in the coming days,” Mines Minister Abdoulaye Magassouba said without giving further details.

The West African nation has sought to develop the Simandou deposit for decades, but the project was mired in protracted legal disputes and high costs curbed interest.

The government required bidders to build a 650 km (400 mile) railway and deepwater port to transport the ore from the remote southeastern corner of Guinea to the coast for export.

Investors in the relatively little-known consortium include Chinese aluminium producer Shandong Weiqiao [SDWQP.UL], a unit of China Hongqiao and Yantai Port Group [YTMPGA.UL], as well as Guinea’s government.

Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by Alessandra Prentice and David Evans