The New Dawn (Monrovia)

11 August 2014

Liberia: Major Companies Pull Staff Out As Ebola Bits Economy

Photo: Boakai Fofana/AllAfrica
Women in Monrovia hold a prayer gathering against Ebola by the roadside while trying to not touch each other.

Major companies operating here have begun pulling their essential staffs out of the country as the Ebola virus which has so far claimed about 1000 lives in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone rages on.

In Liberia, major concessions which have hired the services or other contracting firms are said to be pulling their expatriate staffs out of Liberia. Arcelor Mittal announced Saturday that due to the evolving situation of the current Ebola virus outbreak, contractors working on its Phase 2 expansion project have declared force majeure and are moving people out of the country.

The reports say Caterpillar has evacuated a handful of employees from Liberia. Canadian Overseas Petroleum Ltd. has suspended a drilling project. British Airways has canceled flights to the region. ExxonMobil and Chevron are waiting to see whether health officials can contain the danger. The Washington Post said multinational companies that do business in the resource-rich region are scrambling to respond to the crisis. Among them:

-- Heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc., based in Peoria, Illinois, has "evacuated, less than 10 people" from Liberia, company spokeswoman Barbara Cox said by email. In a statement, Caterpillar said: "The health and safety of our people is our top priority.... We will continue to monitor the situation closely."

-- British Airways has announced that its suspending flights to and from Liberia and Sierra Leone through Aug. 31 "due to the deteriorating public health situation in both countries."

-- Tawana Resources, an Australian iron-ore company, said it had suspended "all non-essential field activities within Liberia" and sent all non-essential African workers, expatriates and contractors home.

-- London-based mining company African Minerals have begun imposing health checks and travel restrictions on employees in the region.

-- Canadian Overseas Petroleum, based in Calgary, has stopped drilling in Liberia. And some of its expatriate employees have left the country.

-- ExxonMobil said in a statement that its offices remain open and that "we're taking precautions to ensure the health and safety of our employees." The company has offices in Liberia, Nigeria and several other African nations.

-- Chevron, which has an office here and is in the process of exploring for oil off Liberia's coast, said it's "closely monitoring the outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa." But the company wouldn't say whether it was withdrawing any employees or taking any other steps as a result of the outbreak.

So far, the economic damage has not affected West Africa's biggest economy, Nigeria's, though the disease has already spread to that country.

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