Eritrea: Sichuan bridge-builder goes into gold mining

Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG, 四川路桥集团), recently written about in this blog in connection with its first European contract, the Hålogaland bridge in Norway, has been diversifying into a rather different area. Finance and Investment (金融投资报) reported in late October that SRBG will enter a partnership with the Eritrean government to explore for gold and other metals in a 1000 km2 area in the Bisha-Zara region. The exploration phase, expected to last between three and five years, could require an investment of around $33m.

The first major mining project in Eritrea, the Bisha mine, a joint venture between the Eritrean government and Nevsun from Canada, produced gold from 2011 until a few months ago, when it switched to copper. Nevsun has been criticised for relying in its Eritrean partner’s use of conscripts as “forced labour“, a charge the company denied at a subcommittee meeting in the Canadian Parliament. Eritrea had received a $60m Chinese loan to start the Bisha project in 2007.

SFECO, a Shanghai government-owned company also active in Eritrea, bought a 60% interest in the Zara gold mine from Chalice in September last year.

[new article] Hålogaland: a Chinese bridge in Norway

I have a new article up on the contract awarded in October to Sichuan Road & Bridge Group (SRBG) for the steelwork of the Hålogaland bridge in northern Norway. This is the first time SRBG wins a tender in Europe: while they have a long history of activities overseas, so far they were restricted to Asia and Africa, in particular with a long presence in Eritrea. At home, they’re behind quite a few rather impressive bridges, including the Xihoumen, the second longest suspension bridge in the world. Somewhat less impressive is Chuanjiao, a company related to SRBG, one of whose bridges partially collapsed during construction last May, adding another fatal incident to China’s record of falling bridges.

Go read the full text.

Dreki environment better off with Norway than without: Tord Lien

Norwegian energy and oil minister Tord Lien responded to criticism regarding Norway’s decision to partner with Chinese state-owned CNOOC to explore for oil in the Icelandic sector of the Jan Mayen area (Drekisvæði for the Icelanders), while suspending drilling on the Norwegian sector, dubbed a case of “double standards” by Greenpeace: “If they have more confidence in the Chinese state-owned company than in the Norwegian state-owned company when it comes to environmental issues, then I think that’s a bit surprising.” Norway’s participation won’t lead to any “more or less oil activity” off Iceland, said Lien, while from an environmental point of view it’s a good thing to have Norway’s Petoro work together with the Chinese operator, and it makes economic sense to have access to information to be gathered from exploration activities, the first ever in the high-potential Jan Mayen area, at a “relatively marginal cost” ($4m last time I checked). All of the above from Aftenbladet. More about CNOOC in Iceland in my article and subsequent posts on the topic.