Last week, the Mozambican operation of Brazilian major mining group Vale had to declare force majeur because of disruptions on the Sena railway from Tete to Beira, which the company uses to export the coal produced by its Moatize mine. In its statement, Vale blamed severe weather and estimated the lost exports would total 250 000 t. It also gave the assurance that the owner of the Sena line, Mozambican Railways (better known by its Portuguese abbreviation of CFM), was taking the necessary steps to restore normal operations.
However, CFM spokesperson Alves Cumba warned that it was not clear when the line would resume operations. “Although we are carrying out emergency repairs, we cannot say when the line will resume [operations], because the weather conditions remain threatening and they are out of our control.”
Mozambican media reported that the Sena railway had already suffered two train derailments in late January and a third in early February. Not only were a number of wagons wrecked, but a significant amount of coal was spilt. The last of these derailments apparently damaged 10 km of track. In addition, the heavy rains have washed away rails, sleepers and ballast in various places, and destroyed a number of small bridges.
Local media also reported that senior Vale executives were sent from the group head office, in Rio de Janeiro, to hold high-level discussions with the Mozambique government – apparently with the President himself – about the problems in transporting coal from Moatize to the coast. They were also monitoring the process of restoring the railway.
Strikingly, the day after announcing force majeur for Moatize, Vale issued a statement pointing out that “expanding the logistical system in Mozambique is fundamental for Vale’s business in the African country”. It then highlighted that it was investing $4.4-billion in developing an alternative route from Moatize to the coast, to the port of Nacala. This involves rehabilitating existing railway lines and constructing two new stretches of track.
Coincidently, in early February, Vale Mozambique signed an agreement with CFM regarding the development of this Nacala corridor. “It is a challenge for us, it will not be easy to integrate a project of this nature,” said Vale Mozambique logistics director Ricardo Saad at the signing ceremony. “It’s a dream which is becoming reality. It is the biggest infrastructure project being undertaken by Vale in Africa. Naturally, it’s an important milestone.”
The company plans to have this new route in operation before the end of next year. “It is important we have a clear vision,” he affirmed. “Our target is to run the first train by the second semester of 2014.”
Meanwhile, the current (not yet rehabilitated) Nacala railway has also recently suffered from bad weather. At the beginning of February, heavy rains undermined the track at a location known as Kilometre 66, disrupting traffic for two weeks (as continuing heavy rains prevented repair work). Finally, a temporary wooden bridge was installed to replace the ground that had been washed away, and provide support to the track. This will be replaced in due course by a more permanent bridge.