April 28, 2020 / 7:33 AM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Philippine nickel miners to restart coronavirus-shuttered sites

* Miners expect coronavirus restrictions to ease after April 30

* Mine shutdowns have disrupted Philippines’ ore supply to China

* Mine exec says difficult to forecast Philippines 2020 ore output (Adds quotes, other detail, background)

By Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA, April 28 (Reuters) - The Philippines’ top two nickel miners said on Tuesday they expect to gradually resume mining and shipping operations in the country’s main ore-producing region starting on May 1, following shutdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Nickel Asia Corp and Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc are preparing to restart operations in Surigao del Norte in the southern Caraga region, where the restrictions are expected to be eased after April 30, senior company officials told Reuters.

Nickel Asia’s Taganito and Hinatuan tenements and Global Ferronickel’s Cagdianao project are among several nickel mines in Caraga that have stopped operations, disrupting supply and boosting prices of the stainless steel-making raw material in top buyer China.

“Our two Surigao mines will start operating gradually, initially under skeletal workforce starting on May 1,” said Emmanuel Samson, Nickel Asia’s chief financial officer and senior vice president.

Other nickel mines in Surigao del Norte and the entire Caraga region may also resume operations next month, Samson said.

“We are working it out to resume operations in May because our area is just considered under GCQ starting May 1,” said Global Ferronickel President Dante Bravo.

He was referring to the less-restrictive General Community Quarantine declaration by the government last week covering some provinces outside the Philippine capital Manila.

The Philippines is poised to become the top supplier of nickel ore to China this year after Indonesia stopped ore exports in January, but mining executives are refraining from making any output and shipment estimates.

“It’s difficult to make a forecast at this point because everything is uncertain,” said Bravo, who is also president of the Philippine Nickel Industry Association.

Nickel ore output last year in the Philippines, which has 31 operating mines, rose by 1% to 26.2 million dry metric tonnes. Thirteen reported zero production in 2019 because they were under maintenance or suspended due to environmental violations.

Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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