More miners suspend operations

HERON Resources, Trigg Mining and Geopacific Resources are among the latest companies to suspend operations in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
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Heron is idling its Woodlawn zinc-copper operation due to COVID-19 concerns.

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There will likely be more operations suspensions, particularly in remote parts of the country near Aboriginal communities.

In Western Australia the federal and state governments have brought in rules restricting access to Aboriginal communities in WA's Kimberley region. It is likely the restrictions will be extended to other areas with remote Aboriginal communities to protect the people living in those commutities.

Heron operates the Woodlawn copper-zinc mine 250km southwest of Sydney, New South Wales. Geopacific Resources is developing a gold mine on Woodlark Island in Papua New Guinea. Trigg Mining is conducting exploration operations around Lake Throssell in Western Australia to further its sulphate of potash plans.

Those companies' operations suspensions follows Northern Minerals announcing on March 25 that it would be shuttering its Browns Range heavy rare earths mine and pilot processing plant for the time being.

In Heron's case it is the travel and other restrictions imposed by the federal and state governments, as well as financial considerations that caused it to suspend Woodlawn.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange, Heron said it was working with its employees, contractors, suppliers and key stakeholders to ensure a safe and orderly suspension of operations.

It has declared force majeure on all existing supplier contracts and notified the Resources and Energy division of the NSW Department of Planning of the suspension of operations.

The suspension will remain in effect until it is deemed that safe and reliable operations can restart following the relaxation of imposed government restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heron's financier Orion Mine Finance has issued a waiver over the default the suspension of operations at Woodlawn would have triggered.

The waiver is for the period up to April 23.

Geopacific has suspended its Woodlark operations to not only protect its people and contractors but to also help ensure COVID-19 is not introduced to Woodlark Island.

It has issued a notice of suspension to HBS Machinery, the contractor it engaged to carry out civil works.

All HBS staff have been repatriated from Woodlark Island to ensure a safe passage to their home countries, while the HBS equipment remains on site.

The contractor Geopacific hired to help with the village relocation, Rhodes Projects, will remain on site to continue that work.

The Rhodes program will be carried out by personnel who have already been on Woodlark Island for a sustained period and will be supported by local Woodlark Island labour.

Rhodes will not be allowed to bring new personnel to Woodlark Island until it is considered safe to do so.

All Geopacific expatriate staff have been repatriated from Woodlark Island to Australia.

The registered manager on site for the foreseeable future is a Papua New Guinean national.

Geopacific is also continuing work with GR Engineering Services on finalising the front-end engineering design and procurement options for critical timeline equipment such as mills and crushers.

Trigg Mining has called a halt to its Lake Throssell exploration activities to comply with WA government travel restrictions and a request from the Ngaanyatjarra, the traditional owners of the Lake Throssell SoP project.

"The scale and potential duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and its market consequences are such that the board considers it wise to take every step necessary to protect its people, our indigenous communities and preserve cash to enable the company to act strongly and decisively once this situation has abated," Trigg Mining told the ASX.

The suspension of operations at Northern Minerals' Browns Range project is due, in part, to its desire to protect the local Aboriginal community that lives close to its operations.

On March 26 new restrictions came into effect to protect Aboriginal communities in remote WA.

The restrictions limit access to the Kimberley, the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku, and parts of the Shire of East Pilbara encompassing the communities of Jigalong Martu homeland communities and Kwirrkurra.

Those areas account for about one third of the geographical area of the state and almost 90% of WA's remote communities and the remote Aboriginal population.

Under the arrangements from 9pm March 26 any person who is outside a designated region can only enter that region if they are providing essential services or supplies; or has been quarantined from the general public for the previous 14 days.

A jail term of up to five years could apply to those who breach the determination.