Maputo — Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM), the company that operates the largest known deposit of rubies in the world, in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, has decided to postpone until 2021 new investment of around 25 million US dollars, because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The investment was intended for the second phase of the treatment of the ruby-bearing ore, but the company's management thought it wise to postpone the investment given the impact of the pandemic on MRM's finances.
MRM, based in the Cabo Delgado district of Montepuez, has been extracting rubies since 2012. Under normal circumstances the operations are highly profitable - but not this year.
At a Maputo press conference on Thursday, the chairperson of the MRM board, Samora Machel Junior ("Samito"), said that in the first half of 2019 the company invoiced sales for about 50 million dollars. But so far this year there have been no sales at all.
An auction of rubies of mixed quality, initially scheduled for June, had been cancelled, said Machel. MRM is thus yet another victim of the chaos in international travel caused by the pandemic.
In recent years, MRM's annual sales have averaged 100 million dollars, and the company had hoped that the June auction would beat all previous records.
Machel admitted that he did not know whether the next auction, scheduled for December , would go ahead. There was no doubt that this situation would have a serious impact on the company's activity and its work force.
Machel said the pandemic had forced MRM to lay off 60 per cent of its 1,400 workers, a measure that it took after negotiations with the workers' trade union.
With the exception of critical operations, the company shut down on 22 April, to protect the workers from Covid-19, and to comply with the recommendations of the health authorities. Nonetheless, about a dozen MRM workers are known to have tested positive for the disease.
Anyone arriving at the MRM concession from outside Cabo Delgado is now subject to screening and quarantine measures. Machel said all workers have received health and safety kits, and educational materials explaining the symptoms of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 and the preventive measures that should be taken.
He said the company has also hired tailors from the Namanhumbir administrative post to make face masks for free distribution to local communities. So far MRM has 11,000 of these masks, but if necessary more can be produced.
Machel said MRM has also made two ambulances available to provide medical care to nine nearby communities.
MRM is 75 per cent owned by the London-based company Gemfields, and the other 25 per cent is held by the Mozambican company Mwiriti.