|Thursday, 2 March 2006Jesse Riseborough|
AFTER years of reporting "there has been no production since 15th May 1989", things may appear to be improving for Bougainville Copper following the election of a new autonomous government last year and recent meetings with the PNG Government discussing the possible resurrection of the massive Panguna copper-gold mine.
After reporting a net profit for 2005 of $A48,000 earlier in the week, company secretary Paul Coleman told PNGIndustryNews.net the time was now right to assess the future of Panguna, given the highs currently being enjoyed by both copper and gold prices.
"With the minerals boom that is going on at the moment, Bougainville Copper has got to reinvent itself one way or another – whether it is Panguna or whether it is something else – the time is now right and there is a window of opportunity," he said.
"It is really a matter of working out what the Bougainvilleans themselves want and once they have made up their mind then I think the next stage is, do they want development and do they want mining? Or are they still cautious about it.
"Once they have made up [their minds] on that issue, then we have got to discuss where Bougainville Copper fits into that whole picture. If it fits in pretty well, then maybe we could start looking at doing things."
Coleman said the company, which is majority-held by resources Goliath Rio Tinto (53.58%), had recently been in discussions with the PNG Government, which also holds a 19% stake, and now hoped to meet with the new autonomous government in the coming month.
"We have been in discussions with those guys, the national government is definitely pushing it, the Minister for Mines is pushing it and it is now a matter of the Autonomous Government and us getting together," he said.
"That process has started but that is about as far as it has got. There is willingness on all parts, it is just a matter of getting all the parties together."
According to Bougainville's website, "company policy is still to ultimately divest the Bougainville assets".
The Panguna mine operated from 1972 to 1989 and was closed after a series of violent attacks on employees. Since evacuating all employees from the island in early 1990, the company has not been able to return to Panguna to assess the level of damage and deterioration to the significant assets left behind.
Coleman said a resource of around 625 million tonnes at 0.4% copper and small amounts of gold remains in the ground at Panguna. There remains a moratorium on any form of exploration on Bougainville.
Previous cost estimates at restarting the Panguna operation have been put at more than $A1 billion.
"Certainly the future for Panguna is pretty good, if they want it to be," Coleman said.
The company has no employees but is being run by a small team of Rio Tinto Minerals staff from Port Moresby.
Robert Burns, general manager of Rio Tinto's Improving Performance Together division, was appointed a director of the company two months ago.
Bougainville Copper closed up 9c (15%) on the ASX today to 69c.
Click here to read the rest of today's news stories.