Alem Kibreab, an high-ranking official from Eritrea’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, paid Sichuan Road and Bridge Group a visit last month. SRBG, though primarily builders of roads and bridges, as their name suggests, also have an interest in mining, specifically in Eritrea, a country where they have been active for quite a few years now.
A year ago, they signed an agreement to look for gold and other metals, and now they are talking about a second exploration project with copper as the main ore. SRBG’s is not the first Chinese mining venture in Eritrea: SFECO‘s gold project is much better known.
This blog doesn’t quite have an Eritrean focus. I often talk about SRBG because, in their capacity as bridge builders, they are building the steelwork for Hålogaland bridge in Norway, the first work of Arctic transportation infrastructure with Chinese involvement that I’m aware of.
A visit to Greenland by a group Chinese potential investors is scheduled to take all of this week and meet with local officials, including the premier and ministers. According to the organiser, Beijing law firm Rainmaker/Yuren (雨仁律师事务所), the delegation will visit companies with rights over iron, zinc, lead, gold, oil and gas deposits, as well as seafood processors.
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.