28/08/2013 - 17:24

CITIC Pacific hires Wal King

28/08/2013 - 17:24

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Former Leighton Holdings chief executive Wal King has been recruited by Hong Kong-based CITIC Pacific to help deal with problems at its trouble-plagued Sino Iron project.

Mr King has been appointed as a senior adviser to CITIC Pacific, which has been forced to deal with massive cost blow-outs and long delays at Sino Iron.

The iron ore project is estimated to have cost about $10 billion, and is far from complete.

CITIC said Mr King would advise its board and senior management, adding that "his advice will be particularly helpful in respect of the Sino Iron project in Western Australia".

Sino Iron, located south-west of Dampier in the Pilbara region, is the largest magnetite project to be built in Australia, and has involved the development of a new mine, process plant, desalination plant, power station and port.

Four thousand workers were employed at the peak of construction, which has been scaled down as CITIC deals with commissioning problems in the process plant.

In its most recent update, issued two weeks ago, CITIC said load commissioning for its first production line had resumed, after being suspended in May.

The company said most of the major issues previously encountered had been addressed and continuous production achieved, but more time was needed to assess line stability and reliability.

"Our focus going forward is to ensure the stable running of line one, ramp it up as soon as possible, and get production line two ready for load commissioning," the company said.

It is currently repairing the motor of the grinding mill for line two, saying this has taken longer than anticipated.

At full production, the project will mine about 140 million tonnes of magnetite ore each year, the processing plant will handle approximately 80mt of material, and it will produce 24mt of magnetite concentrate.

The project is designed to have six production lines in operation; most of the infrastructure has already been built but is awaiting the ramp-up of production.

The six grinding mills will be the most powerful in the world, according to CITIC, with each using 44 megawatts of power and standing more than 17 metres high.

CITIC Pacific's troubles have been compounded by contractual disputes with Queensland entrepreneur Clive Palmer, who owns the tenements underpinning its project.

One dispute concerned the point in the production process at which royalties were payable, and whether royalties applied to waste material; CITIC recently had a win on the latter point, arguing royalties were not payable on waste.

A second unresolved dispute relates to Mr Palmer's role in running the nearby port at Cape Preston, which initially will have Sino Iron as its sole customer.

Mr King spent 23 years as chief executive of Leighton, one of Australia's largest construction, engineering and mining contractors.

He left Leighton in 2010 and in April 2011 joined the board of Perth-based mining services contractor Ausdrill as a non-executive director.

 

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