The government agency told Reuters Friday that it would permit exporters to continue using cranes to load export vessels for an unspecified period once the January 1 mandate came into effect.
Those operators still constructing the now-ordered enclosed conveyor belt loaders will pay a fine, though Sarmiento did not indicate the amount.
US-based Drummond, which is one of the nation’s biggest coal players, is reportedly about three months behind on its automated loader system at its port in Santa Mara. Drummond produces about a third of Colombia’s output annually.
Goldman Sachs’ Colombian Natural Resources, Reuters said, would not be ready in time.
Sarmiento’s announcement is reportedly alleviating some fears that miners may have been forced to suspend coal exports from the South American country beginning in the new year.
According to Colombian radio outlet Caracol Radio, Sarmiento has said that the fines for non-compliant operators would increase over time, but that it wanted to avoid shipment disruptions.
“We are conscious that at no time exports can be stopped, that there are royalties (earned) through these companies, but also that it's necessary to preserve and adhere to environmental norms,” Sarmiento said.
Most of Colombia’s coal exports go to European electricity generators.
Colombia is the world's fourth-largest exporter of coal.