Category Archives: Solomon Islands

Nickel mining set to start on Solomons’ San Jorge island

Axiom drilling activity on Isabel Nickel Project.

Radio New Zealand | 6 October 2018 

Nickel mining is finally set to commence on San Jorge Island in Solomon Islands’ Isabel Province.

An Australian company, Axiom, this week announced that mining will begin in December.

It said the mine’s first nickel ore shipment was expected to be made in the first quarter of next year.

Axiom, which was granted a lease by the Solomons government last month, said it was close to finalising finance for its project.

According to the company, it is in “advanced stages of negotiations with a number of parties” who are potential partners in the mine.

On the back of Wednesday’s announcement, shares in Axiom Mining rose sharply on the Australian stock exchange.

Isabel is considered to possess one of the largest clusters of nickel laterite deposits in the Pacific.

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Axiom says near supply agreement for Solomon Islands nickel mine

Axiom drilling activity on Isabel Nickel Project.

Melanie Burton | Reuters | October 3, 2018

Australia’s Axiom Mining on Wednesday said it was close to deciding on a partner to take nickel ore supplies from its mine in the Solomon Islands in exchange for finance.

Mining at the San Jorge project in the Pacific nation will start in December, with ore shipments expected to begin in the first quarter of next year, Axiom said in a statement.

The Solomon Islands approved a mining lease last month and ore loading facilities are currently being built, the firm said.

A previous mine finance arrangement with Gunvor Singapore, for A$5 million ($3.6 million) in funding and up to A$10 million towards mine construction, that was made in 2015 has now expired, Axiom said.

“With the recent grant of the mining lease there has been an increase of interest and demand from nickel ore consumers for Axiom’s San Jorge material,” it said.

The San Jorge mine is a nickel laterite ore deposit.

“Terms and conditions of proposed agreements continue to be refined and are in a final stage of negotiation,” Axiom said, without giving further detail. ($1 = 1.3953 Australian dollars)

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Axiom granted mining lease for Isabel nickel project in Solomon Islands

Imelda Cotton | Small Caps | September 20, 2018

Axiom is now fully permitted to commence mining of the Isabel nickel project (San Jorge), with first shipment of ore expected in Q1 of 2019.

Minerals explorer, via its 80%-owned subsidiary AxiomKB, has been formally granted a mining lease by the Solomon Islands government for the San Jorge nickel deposit, which sits within the company’s flagship Isabel nickel project.

The 25-year lease has been issued for the extraction, export and sale of nickel ore and associated commodities from San Jorge and allows Axiom to commence construction at Isabel, with a view to commercial production in early 2019.

In awarding the lease, Solomon Islands Minister for Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification Bradley Tovosia commented on Axiom’s contribition to the local region.

“The Isabel project is to be an important part of our economy, and it is exciting to see real production now moving forward for everyone’s benefit,” he said.

Upgrades of a temporary exploration camp to a long-term mining camp have commenced, in addition to the construction of supporting roads and loading facilities.

Community consultations are also underway in preparation for the first shipment of ore.

Financing for life of mine construction and development is in the advanced stages and due to be finalised over the coming weeks.

The Pacific’s largest nickel deposit

The Isabel nickel project is widely considered one of the largest nickel laterite deposits in the Pacific region, hosting a historical non-JORC deposit of 159 million tonnes at 1.1% nickel and 0.07% cobalt.

It comprises a number of deposits within the Solomon Islands’ Isabel province, including the key deposits of San Jorge and Kolosori, operated by AxiomKB (Axiom 80% ownership) in partnership with local landowners (20%).

Both are spread over 36 square kilometres each, with San Jorge accounting for approximately 50% of the known deposits within the Isabel acreage.

The deposits at San Jorge sit very close to the surface in uninhabited land along a shore which encompasses a natural deep water harbour – all qualities which will enable Axiom to bring a direct shipping of ore operation to the market in a timely and environmentally-acceptable way.

Project history

Axiom’s milestone signifies the first time in the Isabel nickel project’s history that an owner has been granted a mining lease.

Previous San Jorge tenement owner and former nickel major, Inco Ltd (now owned by Brazilian mining giant Vale) conducted feasibility studies during the 1970s based on results from over 7000 drill holes and pits and 10,000 samples.

In 1991, Kaiser Engineers completed its own study on Inco’s data, determining preliminary capital and operating expenditures and conducting economic analyses and financial modelling.

Development by either owner did not progress further due to a failure to win the support of customary landowners from the Kolosori and Bungusule tribes.

In December 2010, Axiom’s collaborative approach resulted in a partnership with the landowners and the Axiom KB joint venture was established. Then in September 2014, AxiomKB emerged successful after three years of litigation proceedings instigated by Sumitomo Mining Metals Solomon over the Isabel nickel deposit.

Last month, Axiom announced it would be recruiting key positions and growing its board of directors to enhance its operational expertise and strengthen its position during the project’s development.

At midday, shares in Axiom were trading 34.02% higher at $0.130.

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Australian miner loses bauxite licence in Solomons

NASA picture of Nende in Solomon Islands’ Temotu province. Photo: NASA

Radio New Zealand | 30 May 2018 

An Australian company wanting to mine bauxite in Solomon Islands has had its exploration licence rescinded.

AU Capital Mining was exploring in Nende in the remote eastern province of Temotu, but it has been notified by the Mining Minister, Bradley Tovosia that their prospecting to date has been unsatisfactory.

The minister went on to say that the company had failed to establish amicable relations with the local communities in Nende – something that is required under the agreement.

AU Capital Mining obtained an initial provincial business licence a year ago but it has been confronted by significant opposition in Nende ever since.

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Tensions in Temotu as expiry of Aus miner’s licenses loom

NASA picture of Nende, known also as Santa Cruz, in Solomon Islands’ Temotu province. Photo: NASA

Radio New Zealand | 15 March 2018 

Tensions are rising in Temotu as an Australian miner’s licences to prospect and operate in the Solomon Islands’ province approach their expiry date.

Pacific Bauxite secured a prospecting license in 2016 with the support of some local landowners and obtained a provincial business license, after a change in the local government, to begin working on Nende Island.

But it has met with stiff opposition from other landowning groups who accuse the company of operating illegally and are trying to take it to court.

Koroi Hawkins has more – audio link 

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Gold Ridge slams cyanide claims

The Gold ridge tailings dam.

Solomon Star | 07 February 2018

GOLD Ridge Mining Limited (GRML) has dismissed findings of a research that claims high levels of cyanide were found in sediments downstream of its central Guadalcanal mine.

Researcher Dickson Boboria, a Solomon Islander studying for his doctoral degree, claims the situation has put the livelihoods of the Metapona communities at risk.

But Gold Ridge last night refuted Mr Boboria’s findings.

The company said the findings are in direct contradiction to the cyanide sampling results obtained from Gold Ridge Mine and accredited independent environmental consultants.

“Gold Ridge Mine in collaboration with an Independent Environmental Auditor and community monitors has in place a robust environmental monitoring protocol to monitor cyanide levels in the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) and downstream,” the company said in a statement.

“TSF monitoring has been in place from the inception of the mine in 1996,” it added.

“The results of monitoring from December 2017 show that cyanide is not present in the top five metres of the surface water of the TSF.

“Gold Ridge Mining Limited (GRML) took sediment samples prior to and during the 2016 spill over event including locations downstream of the dewatering discharge pipe into the Tinahulu River and downstream of the spill over into the Kuara stream.

“All samples taken from rivers and stream were below detection levels of cyanide – less than 1 milligram per kilogram.

“GRML undertakes sampling of the TSF and downstream to robust good practice standards with the results analysed at an internationally accredited laboratory, Australian Laboratory Services.

“GRML is transparent in its approach.”

The statement said relevant ministries and government officers receive a weekly report on the TSF, which includes results of sampling as soon as they are received.

“In addition, two independent sampling regimes complement the company’s approach.

“The National Public Health Laboratory carries out a sampling regime and The University of Queensland (UQ) on behalf of the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) have collected samples since 2014 and analysed them at internationally accredited laboratories.

“Sediment samples taken by UQ and SIG in 2016, started from the Chovohio River, all the way down to Metapono including Kwara and the Tinahulu rivers.

“The UQ/SIG research sampled sediment at a total of 19 sites, with the majority around or downstream of the TSF.

“ sampling included four sites along the Matepono River including one at the river mouth.

“At all sites, no cyanide was detected within the sediments sampled meaning that cyanide levels were below detection level (less than 1 milligram per kilogram (<1mg/kg)).

“Cyanide has only been found in sediment taken from deep core sediment samples at an approximate depth of half a metre into the sediment layer of the dam.”

The company said in January 2018, UQ and SIG undertook another program of comprehensive TSF and downstream sampling commissioned by the United Nations Development Program with the results to soon be released.

“I am surprised that the institution where Dickson Boboria studies allowed him to publicly report data that is factually incorrect and misleading especially on a matter that has the potential to create uncertainty and emotion for downstream communities,” Walton Naezon, Director of GRML, said yesterday.

Henry Tobani, the Independent Environmental Auditor for the tailings dam and downstream communities, expressed concern that Mr Boboria may not have potentially exercised his duty of care as a researcher in the manner in which he has presented his findings.

“We understand that the media can sensationalise reports, especially when presented verbally, but there is no excuse for what could possibly be blatant misinformation,” Mr Tobani said.

“It is usual for researchers to have a research method and protocol and to request permission to access and use data,” he added.

Dr Fiona Martin, Gold Ridge Mine’s General Manager Community and Government Relations, said:

“It is my understanding that Mr Boboria did not obtain informed consent from the designated Gold Ridge Mine representative to access site, so we are unsure where and how he got his data.”

Dr Martin said she believed that this situation could possibly mean that Mr Boboria may have breached his university data collation protocols.

She expressed concern that the usual ethical and research methodological standards expected from a doctoral research student from a university of standing may not be in place for this project, which calls into question the research.

Dr Martin requested Mr Boboria to contact the Gold Ridge Mine environmental team to share and discuss his results.

“We are transparent in how we share our data and are happy to provide Mr Boboria access to our data to assist with his research.

“We expect researchers to extend the same courtesy and to discuss their research methods and preliminary findings from Gold Ridge Mine data with us prior to public release.”

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Landowners to rescue Solomon Islands mine – and perhaps more

The Gold Ridge gold mine in Solomon Islands has had a chequered history.

Catherine Wilson | The Interpreter | 21 December 2017

The dusty streets of Honiara are bustling. Once ravaged by militia fighting, 14 years of peacekeeping by the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands now sees men, women and children at markets, schools and shops, confident and free.

But the future of the vast archipelago of rainforest-covered islands to Australia’s northeast is still work in progress. Long term peace and stability after the ‘Tensions’ (1998-2003) depends on addressing the causes and grievances of the conflict, and making headway on equitable development for urban and rural islanders. According to the Pacific Islands Forum, hardship and unemployment remain high in the country and ‘strong resource-led growth is failing to trickle down to the disadvantaged’. 

Landowner grievances, compromised governance and acrimonious competition for land and resources were key triggers of the violence that erupted in Guadalcanal Province in the late 1990s. So tackling land disputes, corruption and management of the country’s natural resource wealth is at the core of ensuring sustainable peace.

Western province, Solomon Islands (Photo: Catherine Wilson)

Natural resource management will be in the spotlight after the government in Honiara recently identified the exploitation of mineral resources – still relatively under-developed in Solomon Islands – as one avenue to boosting post-conflict economic recovery. At the same time, plans are underway to reopen the Gold Ridge mine by the end of 2018.

The mine, a drive of less than an hour from Honiara across the flat, sun-baked Guadalcanal Plains, through farming villages and miles of oil palm plantations, has stood dormant for the past three years. The extraction of gold began here in 1998, but a succession of foreign owners and intermittent periods of closure due to civil unrest and environmental problems has left a troubled legacy.

In nearby villages there are diverse views on the mine’s future, but predominantly people want to see greater local ownership.

‘It [the mine] may open, but it needs to involve more people than before,’ said Stanley Holmes Vutiande. He lives in Navola village, just two kilometres from the mine. ‘More people need to raise their voices and their concerns be taken care of … we need to have the young people and the women come in to participate in deciding the future because the future belongs to them.’

The next phase of the mine’s life offers a window of potential. After Cyclone Ita and torrential rain damaged infrastructure and forced the mine to shutdown in 2014, its Australian owner, Santa Barbara, sold the venture and its legal liability a year later to Gold Ridge Community Investment Ltd, a local landowner company for AU$100.

Walton Naezon, chairman of the what is now a landowner-led joint venture, Gold Ridge Mining Ltd, is adamant that a more inclusive and visionary corporate structure is in the making. The aim is to embrace corporate responsibility through increased operational and environmental transparency. This will allow local participation in decisions and better relations and communication with stakeholders, especially communities.

Local landowners hold a 30% stake in the company, Naezon said, and representatives of communities surrounding the mine, where up to 5,000 people live, conduct environmental monitoring. Water samples are taken in nearby rivers and community monitors oversee the results. The representatives have participated in key company decisions, including the agreement outlining the benefits communities will receive from the mine. They have also joined in the appointment of an independent environmental consultant. Local students are invited to visit the tailings dam to learn about the water treatment process and witness the release of treated water.

Yet the story of the dramatic decline of the nation’s logging industry, which at one time accounted for 60% of export earnings, stands as a warning of the obstacles ahead. Half a century of rampant timber extraction saw in excess of four times the sustainable rate of 250,000 cubic metres per year. Transparency Solomon Islands has claimed it ‘regularly hears stories of politicians using their power to protect loggers, influencing police and giving tax exemptions to foreign businesses, in return loggers fund politicians’.

Logging on Kolombangara island, Solomons. (Photo: Catherine Wilson)

The reopening of the Gold Ridge mine is important for economic growth, said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Rural Electrification. A significant drop in national revenue followed the closure in 2014 and the start of two bauxite mines in West Rennell province the following year.

But the risks remain. Graham Baines pointed out in a paper published by the Australian National University that ‘should mining be forced while governance of the mineral sector remains weak and uncertain, corruption is rife and villagers are ill-informed and uncertain, the rural population could become a potent source of dissent and obstruction’. This was especially a danger in Melanesia, Baines said, where violence and mining seem to be partners.

Yet conflict is not the inevitable consequences of natural resource development in fragile settings. A recent report by Chatham House in London claims the outcomes depend on behaviour – by politicians, bureaucrats, companies and community representatives.

The Solomon Islands government has recently launched the National Minerals Policy (2017-2021), providing a legal framework for improving regulatory authority, industry scrutiny and revenue accountability. It also requires landowners and communities are party to consultations and can access legal advice. Awareness training is especially critical for those landowners who lack substantial understanding of the mining industry, their legal rights or the consequences of their decisions.

It is still early days. The government, working with the World Bank, is only beginning to implement the new policy. But the Gold Ridge mine will be a case to watch as not only Solomon Islands, but the Pacific islands region, grapples with how to take natural resource extraction out of the hands of elites and avoid the trap of conflict.

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