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Petra Diamonds Delays Production Restart at Williamson Following Dam Breach

The company had initially expected production to be suspended for up to three months. Now it expects production to resume in mid-next year.

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Dar es Salaam. Petra Diamonds announced on Wednesday that production at its Williamson mine in Shinyanga will resume mid-next year, longer than initially expected, following a breach in the wall of a tailings dam earlier this month.

On November 8, 2022, Petra Diamonds, a Jersey-based diamond mining group, announced that it was halting operations at its Williamson mine in Shinyanga after a tailings storage facility burst, causing mud flooding in nearby areas.

READ MORE: Petra Diamonds Halts Tanzania Mine After Dam Breach

The company, which also operates three mines in South Africa, said the eastern wall of Williamson’s tailing dam was “breached,” but said in an e-mail that the pit was not affected.

Petra noted that there were no injuries or fatalities confirmed then, adding that the government and mine emergency response teams had been mobilized to the site.

But according to local authorities, the breach affected an estimated number of 19 households and 59 individuals in Tanzania’s northern region.

Following the breach, authorities initiated a joint investigation with the mine’s officials where it was found that the public has no reason to fear following the breach as the mud released from the factory is harmless.

Musa Kuzumila, the government’s chief chemist in the Lake Zone, told journalists on November 12, 2022, that based on the investigation, it was found that the mud is harmless both to human beings and animals.

“There are no chemicals that are known to be harmful to human beings and animals in the mud,” Mr Kuzumila was quoted as saying. “In fact, the water that this mud entered can be used for human consumption.”

But opposition party CHADEMA has rejected the preliminary findings, with the party’s regional chairperson for Shinyanga Mr Emmanuel Ntobi saying that the opposition party is not going to settle for that and that it’d wait for the full report of the investigation before they believe the findings presented.

“We do not want to believe that the mud is as harmless as these people have reported,” Mr Ntobi told The Chanzo recently. “There are reports of livestock death after coming into contact with the mud. Some children were rushed to hospital. How can you say the mud is harmless?”

READ MORE: CHADEMA Rejects Findings Regarding Petra Diamonds Dam Breach

According to its Wednesday statement, Petra had initially expected production to be suspended for up to three months.

The company said it was reviewing the design of a new tailings storage facility, a process it expects to complete in February 2023.

It would also explore the repair of the existing tailings dam, depending on the outcome of investigations into the cause of the breach.

“As a result of the additional work required to progress these long-term solutions, interim deposition options are being developed that may enable the Williamson mine to resume production around the middle of 2023,” Petra said then.

Petra, which owns 75 per cent of the Williamson mine, said it was engaging the government, which owns 25 per cent of the diamond mine, on options for financial support to Williamson during the production halt.

The company said this includes the release and sale of a 71,654-carat diamond parcel, which was confiscated by the Tanzanian authorities in 2017 over allegations of undervaluation of gem exports, which the company has denied.

The two parties resolved the dispute in December 2021, when the government agreed to release the proceeds of the sale of the diamond parcel to Williamson.

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