Friday, 20 November 2015

Ex-Navy Seal Bets on Newly Discovered Congo Copper Deposit

Ex-Navy Seal Bets on Newly Discovered Congo Copper Deposit

November 20, 2015

Excavators and drillers at work in an open pit at Tenke
 Fungurume, a copper and cobalt mine 110 kilometers
 northwest of Lubumbashi in Congo's copper-producing
south, owned by miner Freeport McMoRan, Lundin
Mining and state mining company Gecamines.

Frontier Resource Group, founded by former U.S. Navy Seal Erik Prince, is in talks with a potential partner to develop a copper deposit in central Democratic Republic of Congo where the company says the metal has never been found before.

The company expects to seal a “multi-million dollar deal” with the unidentified entity, Sean Rump, a partner at Frontier, said by phone from London Nov. 13. Congo is Africa’s biggest copper producer, mining 1 million metric tons of the metal last year, most of it in the southeastern Katanga region.

“What we’ve done is find geological trends from Katanga in such a way that it’s possible that we’ve found another resource in the DRC that no one has known about,” Rump said. He declined to discuss the potential size of the deposit at the 407 square-kilometer (157 square-mile) concession near the village of Katende, citing continuing negotiations.

Prices for copper are at the lowest levels in six years because of concern that demand from China, the biggest user, is slowing, forcing companies to pare back production. Glencore Plc, the Baar, Switzerland-based company, announced earlier this year it will halt output in Congo that accounts for 15 percent of total production in the country. The government said last month it plans to cut budget spending this year and next because of declining revenue from metal exports.

Falling Price

Copper, used in power cables and wiring, rose less than 0.1 percent to $4,632 a ton on the London Metal Exchange at 8:46 a.m. on Friday.

“We still see value in copper prices in the next few years,” Rump said. “Our ability to get in on a relatively low-cost project and build it out will still be profitable at current prices.”

Frontier earlier this year hauled a ton of the metal from Kasai province, where previously there were no known deposits, to the port of Matadi on the Atlantic Ocean coast, said Chris Merendino, country manager for Frontier subsidiary West River. It’s expected to arrive in China later this month.

‘Shocking’ Find

“Local officials and military along the 700-kilometer (435-mile) route to the port were shocked to see copper being transported from Kasai,” Merendino said in an interview Nov. 18. “They would call the village chief and officials in Kasai to verify that we were telling the truth and not stealing copper and smuggling it.”

Frontier invests in $2 million to $25 million projects in Africa. Prince, the founder who previously ran and then sold U.S. security contractor Blackwater, is also chairman of Hong Kong-listed Frontier Services Group, a logistics company that focuses on aviation in Africa.

Frontier Resource’s portfolio includes Alufer Mining Ltd., a mineral-exploration company working on bauxite projects in Guinea, and Bridgeporth Ltd., a geosciences firm for mining that has conducted airborne gravity and magnetic testing for West River in the West African nation of Chad.

Frontier Resource’s plans to build an oil refinery in South Sudan have stalled because of the outbreak of civil war in December 2013.

“South Sudan has been difficult,” Rump said. “Other than that we’ve experienced a great lot of success.”

Ilya Gridneff IlyaGridneff

Bloomberg Africa