The latest issue of Mining Global carries a piece on General Nice’s plans for the Isua iron mine in Greenland, the rights to which they acquired last December from Ebola-stricken London Mining. In what seem to be the first media comments about their plans for the project, they talk about ongoing work on an “optimisation plan” for the project and a “thorough review [of] its economic value” amid discussions with potential contractors and investors. They are even “reviewing the potential of other projects” in Greenland and elsewhere in the region.
Some of these comments come from none less than Jenny Yang (Yang Jianzhen 杨建珍), whose involvement with the Isua project goes back several years, to her role in promoting it to Chinese investors as London Mining’s represenative in China. Ms Yang is now quoted as vice president of General Nice Development (俊安发展有限公司), the HK-based company that owns the project through a Jersey company. General Nice Development is mostly owned by Group chairman Cai Suixin 蔡穗新 and his father. As I’ve mentioned before, Ms Yang was involved in contacts between General Nice and London Mining related to cooperation related to the latter’s Marampa iron mine in Sierra Leone.
An excursus into iron mining in Sierra Leone might be in order here. After London Mining fell into administration, the Marampa mine ended up being acquired by Romanian-Australian mining entrepreneur Frank Timiș. Marampa isn’t doing particularly well and work at the mine has been suspended amid a dispute with former staff over retirement payments. The Tonkolili iron mine, Sierra Leone’s largest, has meanwhile passed from Timiș’s African Minerals (in administration) into Chinese hands after Shandong Steel (山东钢铁), who already held a minority stake at the project, acquired the remainder of it by taking control of African Minerals. And in Burkina Faso, the Tambao manganese mine, owned by Timiș’s Pan African Minerals, was ordered to halt production while the government reviews the legality of the license, awarded to Pan African after being taken from a General Nice company. (General Nice didn’t take lightly to it and are claiming compensation from the Burkinabe government; I’ve also written on that dispute.) The Tambao mine was also the scene of the kidnapping of a Romanian employee last month, now allegedly held in Mali by a jihadist group.
General Nice’s stated enthusiasm about developing the Greenland mine goes against a climate of skepticism among Chinese industry sources about the economic sense of investing in a large, expensive project with prices this low. Then again, the sheer fact of owning the Isua mine and talking about it might help the company garner support for other investments in the region that might offer better medium-term profitability.
General Nice is unusual among Chinese mining companies in multiple ways. I’ve written about the group’s history in a long-ish background article that I can’t help but keep touting every now and then. Shorter updates also keep popping up.
While no one seems to be expecting to see much actual mining at the Isua project in Greenland any time soon, I thought its new Chinese owner, General Nice (俊安集团), was worth a closer look, since so little has been written about the company. So I’ve put together a ‘backgrounder’ with highlights from my recent, and not so recent, research on General Nice for everyone to enjoy. Admittedly Isua, an asset which, by all accounts, its new owner plans to simply sit on for the time being, isn’t the hottest topic in the grand scheme of things, but I think the story makes up for that medium-to-low hotness with a flashback to the Shanxi coal rush, with its polluted skies and wild bribing, and a showdown with the ousted ruler of Burkina Faso. Go read the whole thing (still being edited but already up) and confound your fellow dinner-party guests with more General Nice trivia than a barrel of General Nice wine can wash down.
While Sierra Leone’s foreign minister Samura Kamara was in Beijing on an official visit earlier this month, a “high-powered” delegation from the Chinese Communist Party visited Sierra Leone. High-level exchanges between the two countries have increased of late. Chinese investment in Sierra Leone includes the Tonkolili iron-ore mine, of which Shandong Steel (山东钢铁) owns 25% since 2011 while another 16.5% was agreed to be bought by Tewoo (天津物产) in September. Another iron site in Sierra Leone is the Marampa mine, exploited by London Mining, the company just awarded a license for the Isua project in Greenland.
Aminata Kelly-Lamin from the Network Movement for Justice and Development, a Sierra Leonean NGO, to Politiken: “My advice to Greenland would be that they should be very careful with what they write in their agreements with London Mining.” London’s Mining alleged failure to live up to its promises on local recruitment and environmental protection, as well as rather generous tax exemptions it benefited from, have led to criticism from local and international NGOs and protests at its Marampa iron ore mine. Some unrest earlier this month led the company to halt operations at the mine for a few hours.
As London Mining’s hiring and environmental practices at the Marampa iron ore mine in Sierra Leone attracted criticism from a local NGO and a Parliament committee, nearly a hundred youth from nearby villages entered the site and caused the company to halt operations for a few hours, a London Mining statement informs. Although the cause of the unrest is unclear, the wording of government agency responses as reported by newspaper Awoko suggests local discontent against the company might be the motivation. One salient grievance would seem to be the flooding that affected Manonkoh village last year and is blamed on London Mining. The company has since donated food and supplies to Manonkoh villagers. Protests at the Marampa site have taken place in the past.
London Mining has recently received an exploitation license for the Isua mine in Greenland, a rather large project expected to require the import of Chinese labour. There’s more about it in my article on the topic from a few months ago, and a few more recent posts.
Local advocacy group Health Network Sierra Leone called last week for a suspension of UK-based London Mining’s activities at the Marampa iron ore site, Awoko reports. The organisation accuses London Mining of not employing enough locals in the operations and damaging the environment, and sees the company in a “pecuniary conspiracy” with government officials. A government environmental watchdog produced a strongly-worded, all-caps statement which denies the NGO’s accusations have “a scintilla of merit”, while largely avoiding responsibility for any issues related to the project beyond “the rehabilitation of mined out areas”.
London Mining started producing iron ore at Marampa in 2011. Their other operations have included the Xiaonanshan 小南山 mine in Anhui, China, and, notably, a large project in Isua, Greenland, for which they finally received an exploitation licence.