The world’s largest diversified miner, BHP Billiton will merge its energy coal and metallurgical coal business units under a single customer sector group president, it said in an emailed statement.
Spokesperson Bronwyn Wilkinson confirmed that energy coal president Mohamed Seedat would leave the group on March 31.
BHP’s Chris Lynch said that Seedat had played a valuable leadership role in the energy coal business and, in particular, had made significant progress in improving the performance of the South African energy coal assets.
The move formed part of a decision to manage the energy coal business alongside the iron-ore, manganese and metallurgical coal businesses, BHP said in a note to shareholders.
The current president of metallurgical coal, Dave Murray, would become president of coal, with responsibility for both the metallurgical coal and energy coal businesses and continue to report to Lynch, the group president for carbon steel materials.
Murray would continue to be based in Australia.
Although Murray has deep experience in the coal industry and specifically in South Africa, the move by market-watchers has been viewed as BHP Billiton underplaying the importance of coal, especially in South Africa.
Speaking to Mining Weekly Online Department of Minerals and energy Xavier Prevost said that he saw this as an indication that BHP Billition was either looking to divest of its South African interests or to move out of the country.
He added that, while Anglo American was catching up with the political situation, BHP Billition was lagging behind.
Prevost believed that BHP should have kept its energy coal interests separate in South Africa, but noted, however, that BHP was a world company with global assets and concerns.
Lynch said the integration of the energy coal assets into the broader carbon steel materials group had been successfully completed and the next stage was to combine the coal businesses under a single customer sector group president.
He added the combination would further strengthen BHP Billiton’s commitment to improving and enhancing the operations of the group’s coal assets in Australia, South Africa, Colombia, the US and Indonesia.
"This combination will allow us to maximise the operating synergies between our coal businesses and facilitate the transfer of skills and systems between countries and operations. It confirms our commitment to further improve the coal business in each of the countries where we operate," Lynch said.
Seedat was unavailable for comment when approached by Mining Weekly Online.