Third time lucky for nickel mine

By Michael Roberts | posted on June 18, 2020

THE Ravensthorpe nickel mine is back in action for a third time, with its first shipment of concentrate setting sail last month bound for stainless steel producers in China.

The mine had remained in care and maintenance since October 2017, following a decision from owners First Quantam Minerals to suspend operations on the back of a persistently low nickel price.

Mining giant BHP originally spent US$2.2 billion building Ravensthorpe from the ground up in 2008, but just months later sensationally put the asset on ice and sold it to First Quantam for $US340 million.

Buoyed by an increase in nickel values, First Quantam announced last year it would re-open the operation in 2020 – and a global pandemic hasn’t stopped them.

Ravensthorpe Nickel Operation Care and Maintenance Manager Jared Exton said the restart had been fast tracked because the mine wasn’t in a ‘true mothballed state’.

“There was a lot of money invested into the operation to get it ready to go again over the couple of years it was off,” he said.

“The biggest challenge with the restart was finding the people and getting the team together.

“Regardless of the labour market conditions, it’s always a challenge finding the right people.”

Mr Exton said First Quantam directly employs about 300 people to work at Ravensthorpe, with around 200 additional contractors involved in day-to-day operations.

“One of the things we were pretty keen on doing was hiring people from the Great Southern and Goldfields regions,” he said.

“We have a pretty large percentage of our workforce that is either residential in Hopetoun or commutes between Albany and Esperance and everything in between.

“A good proportion of them are skilled and we took a good portion of unskilled or inexperienced people as well.”

With the mining sector excluded from COVID-19 restrictions, Mr Exton said a local workforce isolated from virus hotspots had been able finish the final touches of a restart.

“Having the bulk of our workforce come from the southern part of the state really helped,” he said.

Even though the bulk of recruitment at Ravensthorpe has finished, Mr Exton said there were still some positions available.

“I think we are sitting around 90 per cent full but there are still some vacancies,” he said.