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Latin American Business Vale SA sets three-year outer target for restoring full iron output lost in Brazilian tailings dam collapse

Brazilian miner Vale SA expects to restore capacity lost after the deadly Brumadinho tailings dam burst within two to three years, executives said on Friday, emphasizing that the company is not rushing to resume full output.

The dam’s collapse, which came a little over three years after a similar accident at a Samarco joint venture with BHP Group in the same state, has led to months of turmoil at Vale, culminating in a US$1.64-billion quarterly loss reported on Thursday.

The world’s largest iron ore miner has been forced to take some 90 million tonnes of production capacity offline since the disaster, some voluntarily but much under pressure from courts and regulators aiming to avoid another disaster.

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“We’re not in a hurry,” chief financial officer Luciano Siani told analysts on a conference call. “We’re working together with prosecutors and the authorities with a common objective: making sure that there won’t be any kind of resumption until there is absolute safety.”

Vale on Thursday announced nearly US$5-billion in writedowns for various costs related to the disaster, emphasizing that the total tab remained unclear.

Vale chief executive Eduardo Bartolomeo, named in March under pressure from prosecutors to replace Fabio Schvartsman in the post, said the miner was fully committed to paying reparations to those affected by the dam collapse, which killed at least 237 people.

Vale shares rose 2 per cent on Friday as investors focused on signs the miner is pushing to settle its legal and operational woes.

“The fact that they are accelerating negotiations to turn the page on this is a sign that the market sees the effort positively … that will allow Vale to refocus on normalizing its situation as much as possible,” said XP Investimentos equity research head Karel Luketic.

Vale CFO Siani said the company expects about 20 million tonnes of lost capacity to come back online fairly quickly once it persuades a judge to allow its Brucutu mine, which the company insists is safe, to restart production. Brucutu is now only producing iron ore using “dry processing,” and is operating at a third of total capacity.

Another 30 million tonnes of production frozen by court orders is likely to come back on line within six to 12 months using dry processing, Mr. Siani said.

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A final 30 million tonnes, reliant on wet processing that require the use of tailings dams, could take two to three years to gain clearance, he said.

Turning to Samarco, whose 2015 dam collapse caused what is widely regarded as Brazil’s worst-ever environmental disaster, Mr. Siani said he expected the joint venture to get licensing approval by the end of September, then resume production in the second half of 2020.

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