In what could be a very favourable push towards its
diversification plans, the Belinga iron ore deposit, Gabon's
largest iron ore project, is already likely to fall into the
hands of Australian mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd. in
Michel Edzang, an official at the Mining Department of Gabon,
said in Bloomberg News that government officials from Gabon led
by its Mines and Oil Minister Alexandre Barro Chambrier are
scheduled to meet in February with executives of Australian
mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd., in what could possibly be a final
discussion meeting to complete and close the partnership.
BHP Billiton Ltd.'s acquisition of the Belinga iron ore
deposit eventually seals its diversification move of producing
iron ore away from Western Australian mines. Sales of iron ore
supported 29 per cent of the company's $71 billion in sales for
During initial talks, BHP Billiton Ltd. told Gabon it might
partner with India's Abhijeet Infrastructure Ltd. as the Belinga
project involves the construction of a railway, Edzang said.
Earlier, the government of Gabon expressed dismay over the
status of exploration and development works at the site in the
northeast of the country by China Machinery Engineering Corp.
"We're still discussing with the Gabon government on how to
solve the problems," Cai Ning, manager of China Machinery's
engineering department, said in Bloomberg News, in an apparent
admission of the company's work delay on the project.
"We're waiting for their reply. We didn't say we're
withdrawing and the project is still ongoing."
In 2010, Gabon initiated a review of the Belinga iron ore
deposit after a government consultant noted that the mine's
development has been progressing very slow.
China Machinery Engineering Corp. acquired the rights to
explore the Belinga from as early as September 2006 through a
signed initial agreement with federal authorities. It was in 2009
that China Machinery Engineering Corp. finally signed and entered
into a 25-year contract to build and operate the mine, located
near Gabon's border with the Republic of Congo. The agreement
included the construction of a hydropower station, a port and a
500-kilometer (310-mile) railway. China Machinery had said the
Belinga iron ore deposit would cost $3.5 billion, with production
yield expected at 30 million metric tonnes annually.
But work progress has been slow due to the environmental
protests by concerned Gabon residents, claiming the Belinga iron
ore deposit is situated right within Gabon's Ivindo National
Park, a rainforest home to forest elephants, western lowland
gorillas and chimpanzees.
Mr Cai said China Machinery Engineering Corp. remained in
talks with Gabon on the venture.
"The Gabon government didn't fulfill its part, hindering the
project and making it unable to move forward," Mr Cai said. "The
truth is, we have been working on the project because the Chinese
government gives high priority to this project."
BHP Billiton Ltd. is currently developing a manganese
mine in Gabon, with first production expected out this