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Colombia Coking Coal, Met Coke Hit by Virus Fears



By Diana Delgado

March 26, 2020 - Colombia's coking coal and metallurgical coke production has fallen after many workers returned to their hometowns amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the country. Exports of these materials have also been delayed amid stricter sanitary measures and vessel inspections, two met coke exporters said.

Colombia, the world's fourth-largest coal exporter, imposed a 19-day national quarantine starting yesterday at 23:59 local time, until the end of 13 April. While the presidential decree exempted coal mining from the quarantine, coking coal and met coke exporters said measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus, including a curfew across the country, have diminished the pool of available workers at mines and ports and slowed exports.

One miner said the production coal chain has been diminished by 50pc. Another said the initial impact is not that significant but will increase with time.

"Even if you want to work some things are not flowing. There is a delay in operations because people are scared," a large coking coal and met coke exporter said.

Companies acknowledge the risks of a coronavirus outbreak among workers especially at underground mines. One company has asked mine owners to have workers sign a form that exempts the company from any liability in case the worker gets infected. Some workers at coking coal mines have not showed up to work for fear of getting sick.

Companies are also facing difficulties transporting coal from the interior of the country to Caribbean and Pacific ports.

The country's coal federation Fenalcarbon said steam, coking coal and met coke mining firms have taken measures to avoid crowds and have designed even stricter health and hygiene protocols for worker safety.

"At the moment there is no international demand. We are fulfilling a previously concluded contract. But we are also facing delays in payments by the international buyer. As a result, we will not deliver any more coal until they pay us," said one coking coal exporter.

Gerdau Diaco, the local unit of Brazilian steelmaker Gerdau, has ceased operations during the lockdown but plans to restart when the quarantine ends. The company operates the country's largest scrap iron recycling plant in the town of Tocancipa, which has stopped running. And the company's production plants in Muna, Cali, Tuta and Duitama are not operating.

Colombian steelmaker Acerias Paz del Rio, the local unit of Brazilian-controlled Votorantim, is still in operation and requiring higher amounts of coking coal, according to a large producer in the municipality of Samaca.

Exporters are facing loading delays because vessels coming from abroad are being inspected by maritime authority Dimar as part of sanitary control measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Colombia's exports to India have also been affected as berthing and uploading activities have halted at some major ports.