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Amplats: lockdown won't stop repairs at processing facilities

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(Kitco News) - Repairs to Anglo American Platinum’s converter plant are continuing despite lockdown measures in South Africa to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, with work on the phase B unit expected to be done around May 25, the company said Friday.

South Africa is starting a three-week lockdown, which will impact mining. The country accounts for 70% to 75% of the world’s platinum and around 40% of the world’s palladium.

Amplats, the world’s second-largest platinum producer, declared a force majeure and cut its production guidance earlier this month after an explosion resulted in the shutdown of Anglo Converter Plant processing facilities. The blast occurred at a phase A unit at the Waterval smelter. Then, a phase B unit could not take over production when water was detected in the furnace. This meant the risk of another explosion, leading the company to shut down the plant. At the time, Amplats estimated repairs to the phase B unit would take 80 days, while repairs on the other unit would not be completed until early 2021.

Now, the company is curtailing a number of operations due to a lockdown in South Africa. Still, work on the phase B unit will continue, officials said.

“Critical care-and-maintenance work will continue at all operations and will include the ongoing repair of the Anglo Converter Plant Phase B unit, to ensure the integrity of the assets, and prepare for a safe operational ramp-up,” Amplats said. “All required parts and equipment for the Phase B repair are on site and the estimated time for repair work remains 80 days, ending around May 25, 2020.”

Amplats said it is ramping down underground mining operations at Amandelbult, the Modikwa and Kroondal joint ventures, as well as the Mortimer and Waterval smelters, placing them into “care and maintenance” during the lockdown. Meanwhile, in line with government regulations, mining operations that will continue on a reduced basis include the open-pit Mogalakwena mine and the mechanized Mototolo mine. The Polokwane smelter will also operate to smelt this material into furnace matte. The company said it is putting in place safety, health and hygiene measures.

Amplats said that it has agreed to pay all employees basic salaries, housing allowance and continue with contributions to medical and pension funds throughout the 21-day lockdown period.

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