There was confusion at the Rutile mining site at Mobimbi on Friday when the second rutile mining dredge named “Solondo” leaned over and fell on its side at about 2.30 pm in the afternoon.
According to Executive Director John Sesay this happened during “operational time, and there was no warning.” Some 50 staff members were onboard the dredge when the incident occurred including the Deputy General Manager Sahr Wonday.
48 of the 50 workers were accounted for on the same day, but as he spoke a day after on Saturday, they were still searching for two people who were still missing. He declined naming the two missing personnel or their designation saying he wanted to afford the families the first opportunity to know what had happened to their loved ones.
Other workers suffered injuries “most of them superficial … cuts to arms, legs but nothing fatal he said”. All were treated and discharged except four who were taken to the Bo Government hospital for x-rays.
The over $27 million ‘Solondo’ dredge was bought in Malaysia and reassembled on site in Mobimbi by Malaysians, with the electrical works done by South Africans. The dredge was commissioned in January by President Ernest Bai Koroma to produce about 80,000 tons a year.
However since it started operations it has not produced as much.
According to Mines Ministry officials last year the company – Sierra Rutile produced 79,000 tons of ore, with a world market price of around $450 a ton, amounting to nearly $36 million.
The Finance Minister’s 2008 budget statement lists royalty fees paid to government as Le430 million for 2007 and projects future payments for 2008 to amount to over Le1.6 billion (Le1,687 million).
Obviously because of this “economic disaster” the projected 2008 revenue figures will not be realised from Rutile royalty payments and the government is therefore bound to suffer a serious set back in its revenue generation drive.
Sierra Rutile currently employs about 1,400 permanent workers and another 600 casual. Speaking to some of them on the phone Saturday, they were expressing fears that the company might not be able to absorb the huge loss and may likely close.
Sesay admits that even though they still have one dredge working, in the weeks ahead Sierra Rutile “will obviously have to make some hard decisions” He however assured the community that the shareholders and management “are going to do their absolute best to make sure that we (company) continue and they (workers) continue in employment.”
This is not the case for Leslie Mboka Chairman Campaign for Just Mining who happily told Awoko “Definitely I have no regret, I have no remorse given that the rutile dredge is causing immense devastation, immense ecological problems for our communities.” Mboka stated “we welcome this kind of development because it is going to bring a stop to the unfair ecological war waged on the ancestral land, we only sympathies with those workers onboard who got damaged or missing in the process.” With an average of five dependants for each of the 2,000 employees the operations of the company arguably provides economic livelihood for over 10,000 people.
For them fears of the company closing are real, and they just might not share the same sentiments as Mr Mboka. By Kelvin Lewis