(Adds statement from Vale confirming reopening order)
By Marta Nogueira
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 25 (Reuters) - A Brazilian judge decided on Monday that miner Vale SA may reopen its iron ore and coal port near Vitoria, the company’s lawyer said, staving off the possibility it will have to start closing mines.
The decision by federal appeals judge Vigdor Teitel gives Vale 60 days to explain how it would fix environmental problems at Tubarao port that led to a court-ordered shutdown last week, said lawyer Sergio Bermudes.
Vale had only about four days to overturn the closure, which began Thursday, or risk having to start shutting mines in Minas Gerais, HSBC said in a note to clients last week. When closed the port was shipping about 200,000 tonnes a day of iron ore brought to Tubarao by rail from the highland state of Minas Gerais.
Tubarao is responsible for about a third of Vale’s more than 300 million tonnes of annual iron ore and iron ore pellet exports.
In a statement later on Monday, Vale’s press office confirmed the order reopening the port. It did not mention the 60-day deadline under the order for proposing a solution to any environmental issues.
The closure caught Vale at one of its most vulnerable times in recent history. Iron ore is responsible for the bulk of Vale revenue and profit and prices .IO62-CNI=SI are at some of their lowest in more than a decade, forcing investment and personnel cuts as well as asset sales.
The port controversy, the result of a federal police investigation into air and water pollution in and around the port, is a sign of increasing scrutiny of Rio de Janeiro-based Vale.
A November damburst at a Brazilian mine run by Samarco Mineracao SA, Vale’s 50-50 joint venture with Australia’s BHP Billiton Ltd, is considered the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history.
The damburst unleashed a tsunami of mud that killed at least 17 people, devastated river valleys and wildlife for hundreds of miles (kilometers) and cut off drinking water to tens of thousands.
The ruling on Monday also opens the port to receive coal for ArcelorMittal SA, the world’s largest steelmaker. ArcelorMittal has a mill at the port and receives coal and ships steel from Tubarao’s docks.
ArcelorMittal was cited in the original court order closing Tubarao, but ArcelorMittal said it has no control over operations at the port. The port also receives coal and ships steel for other steelmakers. (Writing and additional reporting by Jeb Blount; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)