Firestone Restarts Operations of Lesotho Diamond Mine
Liqhobong has been in a care-and-maintenance period since the start of the pandemic.
The company, which operates the mine in a 75-25 joint venture with the government of the Kingdom of Lesotho, shuttered Liqhobong in April 2020 due to the coronavirus outbreak and laid off most of its employees.
The mine has been in a care-and-maintenance period since then.
But the company announced in its latest quarterly update that its bridge loan from debtholder Absa was increased from about $2 million to about $11.6 million to fund the restart.
It is also working with Absa on a restructuring plan for its $82.4 million debt, which includes an outstanding balance of $67.6 million.
Firestone said it rehired 97 percent of the staff to their previous positions.
Operations at the mine started on Oct. 1, with the first blast of ore taking place Oct. 8.
Its first sale since restarting operations ended Oct. 14, totaling $2 million in proceeds from the sale of 25,224 carats for an average of $80.60 per carat, which Firestone said was about 10 percent higher than its historical average even though the sale included fewer better quality, higher value diamonds.
For its 2023 guidance, the miner said it expects diamond recovery to be between 620,000 and 650,000 carats.
“The company’s financial position remains very challenging with its high debt levels, and whilst we seek to repay this heavy debt burden over time, subject to continuing favorable market conditions, we expect this to take a considerable length of time,” said CEO Rob de Pretto.
“Notwithstanding this, I am pleased to report on the successful recommencement of operations at Liqhobong after a two-and-a-half-year period of care and maintenance. The smooth ramp-up is testament to the excellent work that was done by a small on-site maintenance team during the care and maintenance period.”
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