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Business News of Thursday, 21 February 2008

Source: The Searchlight

Obuasi mine faces closure!

The nation's premier gold mining concession, the Obuasi Gold Mine, owned by Anglogold Ashanti, is faced with an imminent closure if immediate steps are not taken to control the activities of about 15,000 illegal miners, popularly known as galamsey operators.

So virulent has been the activities of the illegal miners that the company's own security men and law enforcement officials from the army and the police are now being forced to stand by helplessly as the galamsey operators, sometimes armed to the teeth, go about their activities, which include setting off explosives underground, attacking heavy duty trucks that are carting ore, and setting fire to underground cables with the intention to steal them.

One such recent event, in which the illegal miners set fire to underground cables with the mission to steal them, left dozens of miners working at the Obuasi mine underground, with financial loss totalling over $6m to Anglogold Ashanti and the Volta River Authority.

At least two major transformers in the Obuasi mine, one owned by Anglogold and the other owned by the VRA, were blown and totally destroyed as a result of the fire that was deliberately set by the illegal miners.

Speaking to Mr. John Owusu, General Manager, Corporate Affairs of Anglogold Ashanti, he explained that the situation was near crisis levels, and that if immediate steps were not taken to stop the illegal miners in their tracks, the Obuasi mine, which has been in operation for more than one hundred and ten years, would have to be shut!

In many frenzied communications within high-powered circles at Anglogold, they talk of their frustration as the Obuasi mine, once the technological hub of the mining industry worldwide, takes a slide back into insecurity, anarchy and chaos, as plain armed robbers and illegal miners take over with impunity the 'famous' Ashanti mine, once the richest underground mine in the world.

"They have literally not only taken over the streets and vital section of the Obuasi mine but have rendered security forces in Obuasi, especially the police matchless, thanks to their sheer numbers and the crude weapons they carry. They have become a terror and anybody who interferes in their nefarious activities is calmed down with violence," one correspondence with Anglogold stated.

John Owusu, General Manager Corporate Affairs noted that these illegals and armed robbers set fire in the first week of January to a 6.6KV electrical cables which feed a ventilation shaft at the north mine in an attempt to steal cables, destroying transformers and other pieces of equipment, with some 30 employees getting trapped underground as a result.

"Besides leaving behind a replacement cost of more than $5 million to the mine, had it not been the swift response of the company's rescue team, the lives of some 30 miners would have been lost," he noted.

Meanwhile the southern section of the mine, near the Sanso village, has not being spared, according to John Owusu. The illegal miners have regularly been operating with all the force they can muster, especially at the Sanso Shafting loading bay, where ore from the underground are always seized by illegal miners. "They threaten the drivers and their assistants and in most cases board the vehicles and help themselves with whatever they want to take," he said.

"In the same area, Kofi Anane and his colleagues working for Ghanatta Security Services, a private security company working at the Obuasi mine, were brutally beaten by illegal miners, just after the Christmas festivities. Kofi Anane who received machete injuries to his head is bedridden with impaired speech at Komfo Anokye hospital in Kumasi," he said.

The Obuasi police, constrained with numbers and lack of logistics have been frustrated by the sheer numbers of these illegal miners and armed robbers, he said, adding that AngloGold Ashanti's in-house security have already surrendered, as by law they are not allowed to handle guns.

John Owusu said Obuasi has not seen such a surge in violent activities since he joined the company about 12 years ago. The activities of the illegal miners have certainly increased enormously the cost of doing business in the municipality.

"The lives of our employees and their dependents are also at stake so are the people in the township and the communities. We definitely need the government's help to return Obuasi to normalcy," he said.