Keep Calm And Observe The Protocols: Aureus Mining Steers A Course Through The Ebola Crisis

Monday, 15 December, 2014

Keep Calm And Observe The Protocols: Aureus Mining Steers A Course Through The Ebola Crisis

It can’t be easy building a mine with one of the world’s greatest and most sensationalised health scares whirling around your very ears.

But just a few short months after breaking ground at the New Liberty gold project in Liberia, that’s exactly the situation in which Aureus Mining found itself.

Unlike Ebola, the company has been on the ground in Liberia for many years now, and chief executive David Reading has long experience of working in West Africa and coping with unexpected developments.

He’s a long way into a build at New Liberty which should result first gold production in the early part of 2015. It hasn’t been easy, as the flare up of Ebola came around nine months after construction had begun. That was far too late to call a halt – investors and lenders were committed alike, and in any case Aureus would have destroyed all the good will it has built up with the government over the years if it had cut and run.

So, as long as the safety of the staff could be guaranteed, the company was always going to press on.

To that end, Aureus is working with the Liberian government both at “a national and a local level”, according to the official announcements and so far there have been no reported Ebola cases either at New Liberty or on the company’s extensive exploration block to the east, Ndblama.

The key, says David, is to ensure that the correct protocols are strictly adhered to and he has nothing but fulsome praise for his staff on the ground tasked with implementation.

“We’re doing a great job protecting employees and stopping them being infected by having strict medical protocols”, he says. “We’re showing people that actually if you have the right protocols this thing is very difficult to catch. You can make your risk even lower by following strict protocols.”

That’s the measured talk of a man able to take a long view. As the chief of West African exploration for gold mining colossus Randgold in the 1990s David saw off all sorts of different crises during his tenure. This one has a blacker tone than some of the others, but the key to survival, says David, is respect.

“We take it seriously”, he says. “We understand it, we respect it, we deal with it. One of the challenges that we face in West Africa is fear. You need to progress from fear to healthy respect and making our people feel safe.”

Not every company has been so lucky. Reports reached Minesite of an Ebola case on the ground of one well-known ASX-listed company recently, and there will doubtless be others.

But even if it comes, it’s not the end of the world. “It’s helpful not to panic”, says David. “If you calmly put systems in place, these things can be mitigated. That comes with experience and having worked in the region before.”

With all the dust still not settled from the recent mining boom, it’s not always the case that companies on the ground in West Africa are experienced. Many, including a swathe from Canada and Australia, are newcomers to the region. And in the initial stages of the crisis, they didn’t respond well.

Now though, inspired by companies like Aureus holding the line, sentiment has steadied. On the world’s stock market, mining companies operating in West Africa are trading at a discount because of Ebola.

But the fact that most are not building mines isn’t because of the dreaded disease. It’s more to do with a lack of available funding as mining goes out of fashion again. So for companies trying to compete for hard-won capital, the outbreak of Ebola is just another nail in the coffin. But for companies like Aureus, now just months away from production, it’s all a matter of keeping calm and carrying on.