Sierra Leone, a mineral-rich country which has been largely unexploited, is reported to have an untapped iron ore resource that could rank as third largest in the world. African Minerals Limited (AML) holds an extensive portfolio of mineral rights in Sierra Leone, where it has been actively investing since 2003. The company is currently working to bring its flagship project, Tonkolili iron-ore, into production about 150km from the Pepel deep-water port, which has good infrastructure.
An existing railway runs from Pepel to the town of Marampa, about 70km. According to AML, the potential exists for an additional 5 billion tonne resource over the 20km strike extension to the north at Kasafoni. Exploration activities at Tonkolili have also confirmed the potential for 800 million tonnes of hematite mineralisation.
The Marampa iron ore project, located approximately 80km from Tonkolili, is being managed and operated by Cape Lambert Iron Ore Ltd which has a 35% interest in the project. Cape Lambert has committed up to $US25-million towards a feasibility study at the project and has assembled an experienced iron-ore team to progress the project.
AML signed a lease agreement over key rail and port infrastructure with the Government of Sierra Leone in November 2008. Dependent upon the results of engineering studies, the company will refurbish and construct rail and port facilities to accommodate its iron-ore production and shipping capacity requirements and to provide third party access at commercial rates.
Parliament in Sierra Leone, AML reports, has formally ratified a lease over the railway and port infrastructure, both vital to the success of the project. The lease is for the Pepel port and for the Pepel–Marampa railway, and also covers the redevelopment of this infrastructure. In terms of the lease, the company would undertake an engineering study into the upgrade of the deep-water port and the existing railway. If these proved viable, it would upgrade, operate and maintain the port and railway and make these available to other users at commercial rates.
The company is also investigating the possibility of extending the railway (which it would operate itself) to Tonkolili, to provide cost-effective transport of its iron-ore to the sea for export.
Further, studies are under way for a heavy-haul railway linking Tonkolili to Tagrin Point, which is adjacent to Pepel. Tagrin Point would be developed into an iron-ore transport, ore handling and ship loading facility, AML has indicated that the future construction and commissioning of the system was unlikely to possess any material engineering obstacles.