The Heart of Papua New Guinea
We take an in-depth look into the Ok Tedi mine, its operations within Papua New Guinea and speak with executives to delve deeper into the organisation
Writer: Sean Galea-Pace | Project Manager: Josh Mann
“We’re a company with a soul.”
That’s the view of Musje Werror, Managing Director and CEO of Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML).
It’s fair to say that OTML is a mining firm proud of its culture. The company prides itself on being a 100 percent Papua New Guinea (PNG) owned organisation and operating with a large national workforce. In fact, according to Werror, the staff are committed to make OTML become a successful company since the profits generated stays within the country.
“When we became a 100 percent PNG-owned company, there were doubts that we could operate as a strong and vibrant business and so far we have done that,” he explains. “I believe Ok Tedi in many ways is a role model for this country.”
Today, Werror sits at the helm of the mine’s operations. However, his journey to the top of the organisation is an interesting one. Werror has worked his way up through the ranks since joining the company’s Graduate Development Programme in 1988. “I always had an interest in mining and accepted the offer to join Ok Tedi after completing my degree,” he recounts. “I started off in the production laboratory before moving into the health and safety department where I became the first trained occupational hygienist in PNG.”
Subsequently, Werror then became Superintendent of Health and Safety before he moved into the operations area. By his own admission, there isn’t an area within Ok Tedi that he hasn’t worked in or doesn’t know about. “My time in health and safety allowed me to have access to all the operating areas on site. It helped me to develop a greater understanding of how the business worked,” he explains.
Werror graduated with a Chemistry degree from the University of Papua New Guinea, the country’s premier state institution. Having worked in the mining space for over 30 years, Werror has had a front-row seat to how the industry has changed, particularly in PNG. “The industry has had its fair share of challenges over time,” he admits. “Addressing environmental and social impacts are always high on the agenda as expectations continue to develop and change.”
And that experience certainly equipped Werror with the tools he needed when an opportunity to lead the company came along in June 2020. Upon his appointment, he acknowledged that while Ok Tedi is a small operation relative to the global industry, his company plays an influential role in PNG’s economy. “We are small in size but big in heart and we have a lot more to contribute to the development of our country.”
Crusher Replacement Project
Ok Tedi operates a large-scale copper and gold mining and processing facility in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea. Ore mined from the open pit mine at an annual rate of 24 million tonnes feeds a processing facility which consists of a gyratory primary crusher, two parallel grinding modules, flotation and gravity separation and sulphur removal.
“In 2016, a major strategic review of the business was conducted to optimise the main Fubilan pit and maximise the value of the business while maintaining our environmental obligations to the Government and communities. The review identified the Crusher Replacement Project (CRP) as a major value adding proposition,” explains Werror. “The project was completed and commissioned in December 2020. It had cost PGK800 million and was completed on time and on budget without a lost time injury. The completion of the project will allow access to high grade ore material below where the old crusher was located by 2023.”
The scale of the project was significant given the challenges of procuring and freighting the equipment and materials into a remote location and establishing a team made up of 98 percent contractors and consultants to execute the project. At the time of installation, the gyratory crusher was regarded as one of the largest machines of its type to be manufactured globally. Over 13,000 cubic metres of concrete and more than 2,500 tonnes of fabricated steel was required to construct the new facility. “The site itself required substantial pioneering earthworks to be undertaken before construction could begin,” says Werror. “It is indeed a credit to the CRP team for safely executing the project on time and within budget.”
For Werror, he believes in the value of having long-term strategic goals. “We have a small strategic planning team who have done an outstanding job to identify these high value projects for the business,” he says. “We have all but exhausted the value in the current pit and will focus our attention on exploration to extend mine life beyond 2029. Hopefully, we will identify another ore body but time is running out so it will have to happen soon.”
To most organisations across the world, the importance of establishing key strategic relationships is essential to long-term success. Werror acknowledges how much of an influential role key suppliers play and affirms that his company places considerable emphasis on how important they are, particularly as a result of its location in PNG.
“We are located in a very remote area,” explains Werror. “Most of our consumables and supplies are imported from overseas and this requires the company to maintain close working relationships with our partners and suppliers.” He added that it can take up to four months for supplies to arrive on site so forward planning to ensure the right equipment or part is critical.
Werror points to Ok Tedi’s relationship with Hastings Deering as a particularly important example. “With our mining fleet, we use Caterpillar equipment,” he says. “Hastings Deering are our PNG agent for Caterpillar, and we require parts to be available at any time to maintain our fleet. We have other suppliers that supply critical parts for our mills and processing plant. Partners are critical to us to ensure the mine continues to operate successfully and the relationship we have with partners like Hastings Deering are essential to meet our production targets.”
When seeking to establish a mutually beneficial collaboration, Werror has a clear idea of the characteristics he looks for in a partner. These include having values that are aligned with OTML’s values, reliability and have a proven track record.
In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the world and caused operations in all sectors to grind to a halt almost overnight, Ok Tedi activated its major incident management plans and introduced a series of measures and alert levels prior to its first positive case.
“In August 2020, we had a positive case and the numbers escalated considerably within a space of two weeks,” says Werror. “We suspended operations for six weeks and it was a challenging period for us since we didn’t know how the virus would impact our employees, contractors, business partners, communities and the business. Fortunately, we had no deaths and only a few people experienced mild to moderate symptoms. We established workplace and residential bubbles, imposed control measures and commenced a general awareness programme to curb the spread of the virus which we successfully achieved.”
“Despite these efforts, we had a second wave of the COVID-19 virus within the operation in March this year resulting in the company having to suspend operations for two weeks. A major review of our COVID-19 management processes and control measures were undertaken allowing the safe resumption of operations in early April. To support the country’s efforts to combat the surge in COVID-19 cases, the company has made a PGK20 million contribution.”
Talent management is a key part of Ok Tedi’s strategy. The company has around 1,800 permanent employees, with a similar number of embedded contractors and service contractors. Indeed, Werror is keen to stress that the organisation believes in its staff and wants to equip them with the skills and tools to succeed, not just in Papua New Guinea but also overseas if they are given the opportunity to work abroad.
“One of my ambitions is to rewrite Ok Tedi’s history and create a positive perception of the company to the world. We can achieve this by working towards leaving behind a positive legacy which includes our workforce becoming successful when they leave OTML,” explains Werror. “It’s about developing our people with skillsets that create opportunities for them anywhere in the world.”
Ok Tedi seeks to be renowned as the leading PNG mining firm in all aspects of business as part of its Vision 2025. However, Werror acknowledges it’s a short-term goal. “Usually visions are for much longer durations. In Ok Tedi’s case, it is about providing a balance between commercial and technical aspects and people and social outcomes,” he explains. “By 2023, all manager positions will be nationalised. We’re not moving all expatriates out; we want them to play a mentoring role and allow the nationals to take the lead. This goal aligns with our philosophy of being a 100 percent PNG owned company.”
The History of Ok Tedi
Ok Tedi originally goes back to 1963 when copper mineralisation was first found near the current mine site when a government patrol made contact with the Min people of Star Mountain.
In 1968, the Fubilan Copper-Gold deposit was discovered, and the Kennecott Copper Corporation began exploratory drilling.
Following the withdrawal of Kennecott in 1975, BHP secured a mining lease of the area and as part of an international consortium, began mining feasibility studies culminating in a detailed report to the PNG Government in 1979.
Ok Tedi began as an entity to operate the project in 1981 and was formed from a partnership between BHP, the PNG Government, Amoco Corporation and Inmet Mining Corporation.
Ok Tedi mine was a green-field operation remotely located in the Western Province of PNG that necessitated the development of all the infrastructure, including roads, housing, airstrips, power supply and a port located at Kiunga on the Fly River to ship supplies in, and copper-gold concentrate out to market.
Ok Tedi began mining operations in 1984, initially as a gold mine to exploit the gold-rich cap on the Mount Fubilan deposit, and then as a copper-gold mine in 1987 for the majority of the ore body. In 2002, BHP exited Ok Tedi, announcing its interest to the PNG Sustainable Development Programme (SDP).
10 years later in 2012, Ok Tedi became a fully owned Papua New Guinea entity when Inmet Mining Corporation shares were purchased by Ok Tedi. The following year, Ok Tedi became a majority state-owned enterprise when the SDP shares were cancelled, and the government of PNG scaled its direct ownership to 87.8 percent.
Interestingly, Ok Tedi mine was due to be closed in 2010. However, following extensive mining studies which resulted in the further definition of the Mt. Fubilan resource, Ok Tedi sought approval to continue operations as a producer of copper, gold and silver until 2025. The continuation of the mine was agreed and supported by the communities impacted by the mine’s operations.
Today, Ok Tedi has the right employees, with the right skillset, in the right positions to respond to current global challenges. The organisation has a motivated, committed workforce and possesses world-class rosters, terms and conditions and accommodation that provide robust productivity and results for the PNG people and the economy. The company is renowned as a sustainable, efficient and well-regarded operating firm that delivers value to stakeholders and the PNG economy.
The OTML registered office and senior management team are located at Tabubil. Operational sites are located in Tabubil, Kiunga, Bige, with support offices in Port Moresby and a marketing and logistics office in Brisbane, Australia. Ok Tedi Mining exports copper concentrate containing gold and silver to smelters in Germany, India, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.
Mining of the Mt. Fubilan Ore Reserves is undertaken through a large open pit operation through conventional drill and blast techniques, with shovel and excavator loading equipment. The current pit design and pit sequencing has been developed to maximise value while meeting environmental constraints agreed with mine-affected communities.
With up to 11 metres of rainfall per annum, incident rainfall and runoff contribute significant volumes of free water draining into the pit. Rainwater also permeates into the rock mass which contributes to instability as a result of increased pore pressure. Comprehensive monitoring of hydrological and geotechnical factors is introduced into its mining strategy and plans to ensure safe operations.
The Ok Tedi River
Located in Papua New Guinea, the Ok Tedi mine is based near the headwaters of the river, sourced in the Star Mountains. Nearly the entirety of the river runs through the North Fly District of the Western Province of PNG, however, the river crosses the international boundary with Indonesia for less than one kilometre. It is the biggest settlement of the Western Province, and the second largest tributary of the Fly River.
Ore is mined and processed at an onsite flotation processing plant capable of treating around 24 million tonnes per annum. The plant currently recovers copper, gold and silver into a saleable concentrate. The primary ore is crushed and ground using Semi Autogenous Grinding and Ball mills to a final grain size of approximately 180 microns. The finely ground material is treated in two mineral floatation circuits to extract the copper, gold and silver as a copper concentrate. A portion of gold is also separately captured through the utilisation of a gravity gold circuit.
Subsequently, the concentrate is then piped 156 kilometres south to the Kiunga port facilities located on the Fly River. The concentrate is dried, stored and shipped by barge down the Fly River to a storage vessel which is fundamentally anchored in Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour. It is then transferred to a silo and storage vessel before being exported using commercial shipping to customers in Japan, Philippines, Germany, South Korea and India where it is refined to produce copper metal and gold and silver bullion.
Development and Exploration
Ok Tedi’s exploration strategy is primarily based around three core areas: enhancing its knowledge and mapping in and around its existing Mt. Fubilan pit, exploration of near mine locations and regional exploration. The current OTML exploration programme revolves around five exploration licences which covers around 680 kilometres.
In line with the reinvigorated exploration strategy that is focused on the near-mine environment where the mineralisation potential is highest and easily accessible, the majority of the exploration licences are located along the prospective Ok Tedi corridor.
This corridor is a deep-seated geologic feature that trends north-northeast through the Ok Tedi deposit into the West Sepik Province where currently, all known copper and gold mineralisation in the region is located.
Discovery and definition of additional mineral resources within the Special Mining Lease (SML) in close proximity to the processing plant remains an exploration priority. The exploration team have several near mine programmes at different stages. The primary aim is to grow the mineral resource base and subsequent ore reserves through focused, safe exploration. Immediate attention is on replacing resources mined from within the SML. This includes converting resources already drilled to the appropriate density in the East Wall of Mt. Fubilan pit to reserves and identifying other targets that can be proven up and converted into reserves.
Exploration in the Paris (West Wall South) and Sulphide Creek (New York and Wellington) areas, proximal to the current pit are delivering promising results. These areas are the current focus for near mine exploration to increase the mineral resource in the short to medium-term.
OTML has continued to explore outside of the SML as part of its wider regional exploration programme on granted leases. OTML holds a number of brownfields strategic exploration leases in the Western Province. The exploration effort has included the assessment of geophysical and geochemical data from various anomalies, mapping and sampling programmes and drilling of prospective targets.
The target areas include Townsville, Kauwol, Anju and Dorongo licences.
Ok Tedi’s location is based in a geographically remote area of Western Province which is surrounded by a challenging terrain. As a result of the remote location of the mineral resource, as well as the low levels of settlement before the establishment of the mine, OTML built the township of Tabubil to support the operations.
Tabubil provides the infrastructure required to support the mine, including an airport, workshops, warehouses, housing, banks, schools and medical facilities. Tabubil Hospital provides support for the six local aid posts in the mine-affected areas such as Finalbin, Bultem, Migalsim, Sisimakam, Ok Ma and Atemkit. The town has sealed roads, gutters and kerbs, power, reticulated water, sewage and garbage collection. The majority of the accommodation is in the form of detached high-set housing and camp facilities for Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) workers.
Providing world-class healthcare
Since mining began in 1984, OTML has been the primary provider and financial supporter of private and public health services throughout the Western Province. The firm works closely with various multi-sectoral stakeholders for the provision of health services. These include the Fly River Provincial Health Department, a number of church-based providers, NGOs and private health providers.
Providing access to world-class health services for the community and OTML’s workforce is a key priority. As such, OTML owns Tabubil Hospital, which is an accredited five-star facility under the PNG Department of Health system. The hospital is mainly funded by OTML, with a contribution from the Fly River Provincial Government. The hospital provides services to the communities in the North Fly District and Telefomin District and is renowned as the Western Province’s referral hospital.
As a teaching hospital, the hospital provides medical care and services to OTML employees and dependents, contractor employees and the general public. The hospital also offers a practical field for academic and clinical training programmes of the Faculty of Health Sciences of the Divine Word University, while also conducting medical research to provide input into Biomedical and Health Sciences research within PNG.
Ok Tedi has committed PGK20 million to help PNG curb the escalating COVID-19 cases within the country. In March 2021, OTML General Manager for Community and Operations Support, Kedi Ilimbit, confirmed the announcement and said that OTML’s commitment demonstrates the company’s seriousness in overcoming PNG’s escalating COVID-19 situation.
Ilimbit added that PGK10 million would be given to the Port Moresby General Hospital as well as other agencies determined by the National Government while the other PGK10 million will be leveraged for the procurement, distribution and roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Western Province, with priority given to the OTML workforce, contractors and residents.
“We will be working closely with the Sustainable Development Programme and the Western Province Health Authority to implement the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out plan in the Western Province.
“Ok Tedi remains fully committed to take the lead and join forces with the Government, and other relevant agencies to address this pandemic that is impacting all of us. Our commitment demonstrates the same duty of care we have for our employees, to be extended to other Papua New Guineans, including our people of Western Province.”
Ok Tedi is the largest power user in the Western Province, producing its power from both hydro and thermal generation. Power for the Ok Tedi operations is generated by a combination of hydroelectric and thermal power generation units, in order to meet the average and peak demand for some 63 megawatts (MW) and 70 MW respectively.
The hydroelectric generation consists of the main 56 MW power station at Ok Menga and the 2.4 MW station at Yuk Creek. The Tabubil thermal power station includes a combination of diesel-powered reciprocating engines and turbines with a total combined installed capacity of 63 MW to supplement the hydroelectric generation and meet the balance of the power demand. Smaller thermal generation units are also located at Bige, Kiunga and other outstations.
Process water is pumped from the Dablan Creek pumping station near Tabubil through a large diameter steel pipeline and a number of pump stations that are used to transfer the water up to the mountain range to the mill. Recycled process water is also used in the processing plant.
Supply and Logistics
Supply and logistics mobilise around 4,000 twenty-foot equivalent containers and 100 megalitres of diesel every year. Freight and concentrate material are transported between Port Moresby, Brisbane and Kiunga by the OTML shipping fleet on the Fly River. These vessels are owned by five different entities. Five of the vessels are managed by P&O Maritime, and a single vessel each contracted from Consort Express Lines, Curtain Brothers and Puma Energy.
Goods are then loaded on Ok Tedi’s constructed and maintained public gravel road between Kiunga and Tabubil and then onto the mine, utilising a fleet of prime movers, tankers and trailers.
OTML is dependent on adequate water levels being maintained in the Fly River to allow shipping movements to transport copper concentrate from Kiunga to the silo vessel and, upon return, provide fuel, supplies and other consumables for the operation.
Airports are located at Tabubil, Kiunga and Bige where OTML has scheduled charter flights to move FIFO employees and contractors to and from work. Ok Tedi currently charters Dash 8 and Twin Otter aircrafts to uplift freight on an as-required-basis, further supporting operations. A helicopter supports exploration activity as well as environmental, community relations and security operations.
Ok Tedi operates and maintains a modern mobile equipment mining fleet and ancillary equipment. OTML also operates and maintains fixed/processing plants and equipment in the processing plant and Kiunga operations, which has been active for more than 30 years. During this time, there have been significant equipment component changes and upgrades done to the existing plants. There is continuous planned maintenance to maximise equipment reliability and to meet production targets.
Mining in PNG
Since 1970, the mining sector has played an influential role in PNG’s economy. Mineral exports are gold, copper, silver, nickel and cobalt. The industry is facing a number of competing trends as well as a rapidly changing global business environment. Against the backdrop of commodity price fluctuations, miners should be able to balance shareholder dividend expectations while maintaining an investment pipeline in the middle of increasing operating costs.
Safety, environmental and community principles also continue to shape the industry as miners seek to achieve their license to operate and deliver on corporate responsibilities. In addition to the global mining landscape, mining firms in PNG have to cope with additional complexities, such as balancing the government’s desire for development, the needs of communities and resource owners, as well as environmental sustainability.
Despite the challenges, PNG is located in a highly prospective region and the opportunities for large-scale development are significant. There are several major projects that are readied for development, such as Wafi-Golpu.
Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF)
The Ok Tedi Development Foundation (OTDF) is a subsidiary of OTML and is a non-profit, legal entity established to manage the development benefits and delivery of projects to the 157 villages in the Community Mine Continuation Agreement (CMCA) area of the Western Province and with consideration for the people of the Telefomin District in the Sanduan Province. Its vision: “To improve self-sustainability and quality of life of Western Province communities.”
Havini Vira has been the CEO of the OTDF since April 2020. Vira is now in his second stint with the company, having served as Fisheries Biologist and Team Leader of Rural Development from 2004 to 2010. While in this position, he managed a team of six, was responsible for agriculture, fisheries and forestry research and development work for the benefit of mine affected communities in the CMCA regions around the mine and Fly River.
“I became involved in the mining industry through my work in developing livelihood and food security options for mine affected communities,” he says. “The challenge to create sustainable livelihood options and changing the mindset of these communities beyond mine-life is the key driver for me.”
Today, he leads operations at OTDF and is responsible for ensuring the company remains focused on achieving its mission to improve self-sustainability and quality of life for Western Province communities. In addition, Vira is also tasked with ensuring its key partners and stakeholders are informed of its plans and progress with the key stakeholders being its communities.
Having rejoined the organisation and now in his second spell, Vira believes that the mindset has changed. “People have come to realise that the mine isn’t a forever thing and it will be gone one day,” he notes. “It is a lot easier now than it was in the early days to try and get people to farm and look after themselves. The mindset has changed, and this is because of the effort that OTDF has done in the community. It’s a slow process but we’re getting there.”
For Vira, he believes that this is an exciting time to be in mining within Papua New Guinea. “There are some major projects coming up with their own unique challenges,” he says. “One thing common throughout is the community consultation and aspiration factor. The need to balance this with the mining returns and environmental impact is even more critical here where land ownership is woven into the very fabric of our society.”
OTDF is a 100 percent subsidiary of Ok Tedi and is focused on improving the lives of the PNG community. While OTDF is forever linked to its parent firm, Vira explains that his organisation still runs independently. “We have our own board and management, but we do have an unbreakable umbilical cord with Ok Tedi so are tied to them,” he says. “We are given license to operate outside of Ok Tedi because we are far more accessible to the community.”
OTDF’s work in the Western Province
The Western Province is the largest province in PNG and covers 20 percent of PNG’s land mass at 97,300 square kilometres, but the population is only 201,351 (2011 Census). This is because of a traditional ‘hunter and gatherer’ lifestyle across an undulating and dense tropical landscape.
The lifeline of Western Province is the Fly River as the majority of its residents live along or near its banks and tributaries. The river runs across 650 miles long and goes through the province from north to south where it ends at the Gulf of Papua through a mouth which equates to over 90 kilometres wide. The river also defines various districts within the Western Province, which is dependent upon the proximity to and along the Fly River.
The Fly River is the primary route for mining suppliers and distribution of government services via a growing fleet of private and commercial vessels.
North Fly District
Located in the upper reaches and most remote district within the Western Province as a result of its mountainous ranges and valleys, with the North Fly District the smallest of three districts.
North Fly District’s population is around 62,850 people (2011 Census) and is overseen by the Local-Level Government areas of Kiunga Rural, Kiunga Urban, Ningerum Rural, Olsobip Rural and Star Mountains Rural, as well as the townships of Kiunga, Tabubil, Olsobip and Nigerum.
Middle Fly District
The region is characterised by wide flood plains, and a number of tributaries and swamps. The upper stream sections have vegetation such as rainforest, swamp forest and sago while the lower reaches of Middle Fly District are primarily flood plains where extensive areas of swamp grasses grow. Population sits at around 79,349 (2011 Census) and includes the local-level government area of Balimo Urban, Bamu Rural, Gogodala and Nomad. The Middle Fly District is also home to the largest lake in the country, Lake Murray.
South Fly District
Located at the bottom of the Fly River and across the Gulf of Papua, including the Fly River delta, the South Fly District is mostly impacted by tidal flows, which supports comprehensive mangroves along the mainland and delta islands at the mouth of the river. The district consists of 31,864 kilometres with population at around 46,407 (2011 Census). The South Fly District includes the Provincial capital of Daru and is governed by four local-level government areas of Daru Urban, Kiwai Rural, Morehead Rural and Oriomo-Bituri Rural.
Under the CMCA arrangement, OTDF manages 158 villages that are allocated development funds while village planning committees nominate community projects. “These nominations are reviewed and approved by regional trust boards who meet a minimum of twice a year,” says Vira. “The same process is mirrored with the women’s 10 percent compensation component with regional women’s associations making the decisions. OTDF manages and facilitates the process and procures/delivers all approved projects to the villages.
“There are very few development organisations in this part of PNG,” he adds. “The logistical challenges alone are a constraint to many who are willing to come. The provincial government is stretched with resources given that this is the province with the largest land mass and the lowest density – communities are widely spread. OTDF is able to provide support to communities along the Fly River and also assist government/development partners through our field bases and logistical backbone. Collaboration is therefore key for communities to access services, OTDF is able to support that.”
Vira points to two particularly influential initiatives that have stood out for him over the past few years. “For me, there are two that stand out,” he explains. “One has been the increase in security. In our communities here in Western Province, there have been many ‘hunters and gatherers’ traditionally in the past. It is only in recent times that people have settled down. The concept of farming is quite new and has taken many years with OTDF’s continued support to change people’s mindsets to be more stable and focused on the future. This concept is now starting to gain some traction and for me has been a major positive because it has made our lives easier.”
“The second thing is the long-term investments. In 2012, we made a decision to invest in long-term funds because they were sitting in the bank earning two percent and now, they’re earning a minimum of eight percent return on investment. It’s been really successful, and it is also important for the community because after Ok Tedi goes, they will have funding available for the future.”
Looking to the next few years, OTDF has outlined a clear vision for the future. The organisation is currently building capacity and empowering its CMCA communities and associated entities in order to operate independently beyond mine life. “Currently, OTDF programmes will be transferred to provincial stakeholders/partners as communities become sustainable,” notes Vira. “By 2025, OTDF will essentially be managing the trust and corporate functions – particularly facilitating development funds expenditure from current long-term investments.
“WestAgro is expected to support income generation at the household level. This will be a sustainable venture that is agribusiness focused using the nucleus estate model. We are starting with vanilla in the North Fly in 2021. IAI is the implementing/managing partner who will also be responsible for extension and support services to smallholders. The provincial government has invested in this venture with our local communities through various entities also putting money into the business. After 2022, Middle Fly and Suki will have cocoa rolling out. SDP has also commenced work in the South Fly with IAI. Sustainable agribusiness underpinned by nucleus estates, extension services and a strong smallholder programme is expected to become the economic driver in Western Province after Ok Tedi.”
Ok Tedi’s Sustainability Drive
It is estimated that since the beginning of the mine, OTML has contributed around PGK10 billion in assisting the development of economically sustainable local and regional communities within the Western Province. Since 1998, more than PGK3 billion has been invested in decreasing the long-term impact on the river system including the removal of pyrite from the tailings, addition of limestone to waste rock and tailings to maintain alkalinity in the river system and the dredging of sands from the river bed around 100 kilometers downstream of the mine at Bige.
The Ok Tedi mine originally planned to construct both a tailings dam and a waste rock dump to retain much of the mine derived waste during its mine life. However, in 1984, during the construction of the foundation for the tailings dam at Ok Ma, a landslide filled the area. Subsequent state approval was given for an Interim Tailings Storage (ITS) facility which was then developed in a bid to contain tailings at the commencement of operations. Upon the design capacity of the ITS being reached in 1986, further approval by the state was granted for treated tailings to be discharged directly into nearby creeks, eventually flowing into the Ok Tedi and the Fly Rivers.
In 1989, the Northern waste rock dump, that has been developed in the upper reaches of Sulphide Creek, was destroyed by a landslide. Approval was given by the state for OTML to continue using failing waste dumps to the North and South of the pit.
Since then, mine waste was disposed into two tributary systems of the Ok Tedi: Sulphide Creek which joins the Ok Gilor and then the Ok Mabiong before coalescing with the Upper Ok Tedi and Harvey Creek which joins the Ok Mani before it coalesces with the Ok Tedi at Tabubil.
Over the years, the discharge of waste rock and tailings has significantly increased the sediment load of the river. While much of the waste rock consists of coarse material, around 60 percent of it breaks down during transport into finer material in the sand-silt size range. While the gravels aren’t transported beyond the middle reaches of the Ok Tedi, the finer material passes into the Fly River.
The riverine discharge of tailings and waste rock management continues to be the most significant long-term environmental challenge for OTML. This has had adverse environmental impacts on the Ok Tedi and Fly River systems and associated eco-systems, which has subsequently impacted the livelihood and cultural life of the communities who live along the river corridor.
The OTML Environmental team, which consists of environmental scientists and technicians, is responsible for monitoring the past and present impacts of the mine along the 1,000 kilometres downstream riverine system from the mine to the Fly River Delta. This includes maintaining a hydrological network of monitoring stations along the river system, regular field sampling of water, sediment and food, vegetation surveys, data analysis and reporting. The Environmental team collaborates with the community relations team to provide environmental information for the stakeholder consultation.
The resultant heightening of the riverbed over many years has seen an increase in the duration of overbank floodplain inundation.
This flooding resulted in the conversion of parts of the forested floodplain to grassed floodplain in the lower Ok Tedi and the upper reaches of the Middle Fly River system.
Vegetation dieback is the result of a substantial build-up of sand in the river channels and during high river flows, over bank deposition of sediments and water floods within the forest in the river’s low-lying floodplains. In addition, communities across the riverbank have had their gardens taken away because of overbank flooding and access to forest resources due to dieback. The extent of forest dieback and changes to grassland is checked every year and reported to the state in the annual report.
To help control flooding and dieback, OTML has dredged around 370 metric-tonnes (Mt) of sand from the river at Bige since 1998. The dredging operation removes around 85 percent of the sand that reaches the Bige site located in the lower Ok Tedi preventing it from travelling further downstream. Around 17 metric-tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of sand is removed from the river every year and placed in engineered stockpiles on the East and West Banks of the Ok Tedi River.
The dredging operation at Bige will continue to the end of mine life and this will assist in minimising future physical impacts. The dredging programme has been successful with the bed level of the Lower Ok Tedi dropping since the commencement of dredging and forest dieback declining.
OTML is the only large copper mine globally to separate sulphides from the tailings before the tailings discharge. The residue material following metal product removal is re-treated in the separate Tailings Pyrite Plant flotation plant to extract pyrite prior to disposal.
The pyrite slurry is piped to storage pits on the West Bank of the Ok Tedi River at Bige where it is permanently stored in engineered structures under water with a non-acid forming sediment cover system in order to prevent the oxidation of the sulphides and formation of acid. Once full, the pits are capped with Non-Acid Forming sands dredged from the river as part of the normal sand removal process.
After sulphide recovery from the tailings, the remaining barren sands are disposed of by pumping the material from the processing plant through a pipeline located within the Moscow Tunnel for discharge into tributaries of the Ok Tedi River and eventually into the Fly River.
The tailings are mobilised as a result of the fast-flowing streams and held in suspension until the river profile begins to flatten out at Bige, upstream of the junction within the Fly River.
As the stream velocity slows over a dredged slot in the riverbed, most of the tailings, particularly the coarser particles settle out into the slot. A dredge then pumps the sediments ashore for hydraulic placement into long-term engineered storage stockpiles located on the east and west banks of the Ok Tedi River at Bige.
The reduction in the quantity of pyrite materials flowing down the river has substantially reduced the acid rock drainage risk throughout the river system.
Acid Rock Draining Mitigation
Ok Tedi mine is the only large copper mine in the world to separate sulphides from the tailings before the tailings discharge. The risk of acid rock drainage identified before 2008 because of high sulphur levels and insufficient neutralising capacity in the sediments is now managed with the implementation of the Mine Waste Tailings Project (MWTP).
Since 2008, pyrite and other sulphide minerals are removed from tailings and acid-neutralising limestone added to the mill feed at the primary crusher. The finely ground limestone responds quicker in order to neutralise acidity and is transported with the tailings down the river system. Further, limestone is added to the waste rock dumps to provide neutralising capacity.
Community Mine Continuation Agreement
An integrated compensation and development package are provided to the communities for their economic and social benefit. This is both a moral and legal obligation that OTML must meet, as enforced by legislation passed by the National Government of Papua New Guinea in November 2001.
The Community Mine Continuation Agreement (CMCA) defines the cash compensation, investment and development payments that OTML makes to the 158 communities impacted by the mining operations in return for the license to continue operating the mine until 2025. The communities are grouped into nine regions of over 147,000 people. The nine CMCA regions extend from the mine to the South Fly. These are: Mine Villages, Highway, North Ok Tedi, Lower Ok Tedi, Middle Fly, Suki Fly Gogo, Manawete, Kiwaba and Dudi.
A total of 36 elected community members consist of the CMCA Working Group and attend the delegates meeting along with the government representatives, OTML, churches, women and youth organisations and NGOs. Each region is represented by four community members, including at least one woman. The mine continuation funding is seen by the CMCA Working Group members as a lever for change leading to a self-supporting sustainable future without OTML.
CMCA and Mine Villages Updates
The Community Relations Department (CRD) conducts biennial and annual population and family listing updates for the nine CMCA Trust regions including the six mine villages. The cash payments to the beneficiaries are calculated based on the population of respective regions and directly disbursed to family accounts via the online banking system.
People and Capability
Mark Stone is the General Manager of People and Capability at Ok Tedi. With a strong family connection to mining, there wasn’t a question over which direction his career would take. “I’ve been in the mining industry since I left school and my family have always been involved in mining,” he explains. “My father was involved since he was a kid, his father was too and so was my brother, so it was those family roots that got me started.
“I started work in Newcastle which is an Australian coal mining centre. I then worked in several places across Australia, but I have always had an ambition to work overseas so I spent a good deal of time across the Americas and also a bit of time in Africa as well. But that’s what I love doing. Mining has a very special feel and culture to it and people are always wonderful wherever you go in this industry. Mining is in my blood.”
And the pull of exciting new projects is hard to resist for Stone. Reflecting on how his journey took him to Papua New Guinea and Ok Tedi in the first place, he jokes he was relaxing in Panama, where he was then based, when the call came. “I was actually living on the other side of the world,” he recalls. “I had finished a project in South America, and I was contacted to ask if I was interested in applying for the position at Ok Tedi. Back in my early days working at BHP, I came up to PNG a long time ago, so I had a little bit of an insight into the company which stood me in good stead.”
To Stone, from the outside looking in, he could see the true potential of what the country could be. “PNG has great opportunities and capabilities, and there are fantastic people here,” he affirms. “Fortunately, my interview went well, and they felt I was a good fit and here I am, three years later.”
And it was in those three years that the world changed dramatically from the one when Stone began working at Ok Tedi in August 2018. He admits that, as a result of the pandemic, the space is both exciting and challenging in equal measure. “It’s challenging because the whole world economy is obviously turning and in some respects that is quite positive because it has pushed the metal prices up but it’s all very unreliable because you don’t know when that could change again,” explains Stone. “The difficulty is ensuring we’re competitive no matter the price environment. My role is to ensure the people are behind that challenge and are making a difference.
“At Ok Tedi, we’ve set ourselves a vision of where we’d like to be over the next three to five years and people are a big part of that. This is what I do, what I love and what I get excited about.”
Ok Tedi places considerable emphasis on being regarded as the only PNG-owned mining company, something that Stone believes is hugely important because it is about working for the country in which it operates. “We’re not the only PNG mining company but we’re the only PNG-owned one and that is special,” he believes. “Giving back to PNG drives the way we operate the company because we have a very clear vision that our job is to create dividends for the benefit of PNG. For me, that’s a huge source of pride.”
As a result of Ok Tedi’s arduous location, things can go wrong. However, it is the workforce’s unity and dedication that shines through, according to Stone. “Our culture is spectacular,” he beams. “It’s a challenging location and we have all sorts of things that could go wrong, such as earthquakes. We are very dependent on the river for our product to go out and supplies to come in. The river is very dependent on rainfall and we have dry spells where that stops happening. There are plenty of challenges in front of us, the big one being COVID-19, but there is something about the workforce because when they focus on a challenge, everyone works together and that is special.”
Indeed, COVID-19 has disrupted companies in all industries across the world. Ok Tedi understood the magnitude of the pandemic from the onset and quickly established an incident management planning team to mitigate against the virus. Initially, this worked well, however, in August 2020, the company was dealt a blow. “We had to shut down our operations for six weeks,” says Stone. “We had our first positive case and very quickly this spread to being around 180 cases company-wide. This led to us making permanent changes upon restarting operations.”
And those permanent changes involved changing the roster to provide a longer rotation so that personnel travel in and out of site fewer times per year. “As COVID is going to be with us for a while, we formed a Business Continuity department and their role is to continuously monitor the global, national and local situation and check whether the measures we have in place are the right ones and make recommendations,” explains Stone. “This served us well until the end of 2020. However, in January and February, we did start to see a rise in positive cases so we tightened up our measures again.”
“We’ve survived very well,” he notes. “We had that six-week shutdown but the metal prices helped us out at the end of the year, so we were down on production but financially as a business, we achieved what we set out to do.”
Stone is quick to praise the reaction of his team in the face of an unprecedented situation. He acknowledges that while following measures has had its trials and tribulations, his team has worked well together. “We use this term ‘one team, one culture’ and when we face these challenges, we face them together,” he says. “People obviously didn’t want to be tied down and be restricted with face masks, but they got on with it and understood the importance of do it.
“This even extended to placing a ban on some traditions. There is a custom in Western Province where we operate that at the end of a handshake, you click your fingers with the other person as you separate your hands. We had to stop that because it’s another opportunity for transmission. I love that myself so I hate the fact that we can’t do it, but we have no choice. We, like everyone else in the world, are suffering from COVID-19 fatigue and want our vaccines in order to return to a more normal life but in the meantime we continue to follow the guidance.”
However, despite COVID’s unwelcome disruption, working in PNG offers a host of benefits. Stone is full of praise for the lifestyle that working at Ok Tedi brings. “In PNG, there is a solid mining industry and there are only a few big players, us being one of them. Being a PNG-owned company, this gives us a bit of a boost and people see the advantages in working with a company that is owned by the country. We make sure our remuneration packages are attractive so that people feel like they are being properly rewarded. The lifestyle here is good so people are able to live and work in comfortable conditions. We focus on our culture and the development of people. Today, I’m confident that we’re the mining industry employer of choice.”
But despite salary and reputation being key reasons for recruitment, training and development is another important pillar of keeping employees effective and motivated. Ultimately, Stone believes that training is at the heart of success and personal growth, stressing that great strides have been made to improve and aid development in recent years.
“It’s key to attraction and retention, as well as to people development,” he says. “We have a training centre that we’ve revitalised in recent years. It’s now called the “Dr Jacob Weiss Training Centre.” Dr Weiss was one of our late directors and is a very renowned person within the country, so we thought it fitting to name it after him. Through that centre, we offer a wide range of traineeships for young people as well as on-going training for the workforce. The training centre not only addresses skill gaps in the workforce but provide services to operations as part of the training process.”
Upon the appointment of Musje Werror as Managing Director and CEO, Stone, like all members of leadership, sat down with Werror to discuss their vision for Ok Tedi. This led to the formation of Ok Tedi’s vision for the next few years. By the end of 2023, all of the company’s management positions will be filled by national employees; while by the end of 2025, all its executive positions will be filled by national employees. At the centre of making this ambition a reality is training and development, which demonstrates the importance of the programmes the company offers.
“Our leadership development programme is also vital,” adds Stone. “In 2019, we launched our first programme which was aimed at our frontline supervisors to equip them with the skills they need to lead their teams. And we’re just launching our second leadership programme, which is targeted at the more senior staff which can help them at their current role as well as preparing them to move up to the next level.”
With a considerable amount of change in the last few years, Ok Tedi doesn’t rest on its laurels and isn’t content to stand still. Reflecting on a particularly influential initiative in the recent past, Stone believes there is one that sticks out the most from a business perspective.
“In 2015, we were a very high cost operation and as a result of a dry weather event, operations shut down for around six months,” he explains. “There was a new Managing Director at the time, so it was a fresh start and an opportunity to have a reset. We are now one of the lowest cost producers in the industry globally. This whole discipline around managing business, cost and driving improvement is a key part of who we now are. In terms of specific things, we’ve invested a lot of money over the past few years in renewing much of the infrastructure and equipment. The mine has been in operation for 36 years so some of the infrastructure is beginning to show its age and requires upgrading. An example is the new in-pit crusher.
“This was a major improvement because the previous crusher was in a pretty poor state and was also sitting on top of some high-grade ore. By building a new crusher in another location, we now not only have a modern reliable piece of plant, but also have access to that high-grade material that will make a huge difference to the business over the coming years.”
However, for Stone and his role, he affirms that the focus on people, culture and values within the company has been transformational. “The company’s culture and approach to work is a major contributor to the company’s success,” explains Stone. “We put together a team that we call the Pasin Ok Tedi Team, which was drawn from some of the ‘movers and shakers’ within the organisation. Their role is to help communicate to the workforce what it means to live our values through our daily decisions and actions and to provide feedback to the executive team on opportunities to continue to improve our culture. This has had a huge impact on all of us feeling and operating as one team aligned towards a common set of goals. Unlocking the potential of people to work together toward a common goal is a huge piece of the puzzle.”
With the future in mind, Stone outlines four key pillars that he is focused on over the next few years. These are: maintaining and building on the culture, a focus on national leadership, increasing gender diversity into the workforce and upgrading old systems.
“We have invested time in developing our people strategy because ultimately, people are at the heart of what we do,” explains Stone. “Firstly, we have to ensure that people remain focused on contributing to the Ok Tedi vision and buy into the culture. Secondly, it’s about developing national leaders to take up leadership roles. Being clear, we’re not kicking out expats but it’s about having nationals in leadership positions and having expats provide guidance and mentorship.”
However, Stone acknowledges there is still work to be done to improve gender diversity within his organisation. “At the moment, only around 11 percent of our workforce is female,” he says. “However, by the end of 2023, we want to double that. If the gender mix of the country is roughly 50/50, we should be doing better than our current mix. This is a generational change and doesn’t happen overnight. With the assistance of our very active Ok Tedi Women’s Network (OWN) and by being very intentional about achieving it, we can make a difference in gender diversity.”
Finally, Ok Tedi is modernising its processes and undergoing a digital transformation. “We’ve been here a long time and some of our processes are a bit old-fashioned,” admits Stone. “We’re upgrading all our systems and are just about to launch a new cloud-based HR platform which will streamline tasks, provide greater visibility and reduce the risk of losing previously paper-based information.”
Inside Mark Stone’s role
OTML attracts, develops and retains a highly engaged and skilled national workforce with a small number of expatriates in key roles for a total of around 1,800 employees, operating through a mostly Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) operation. OTML strives to create a healthy and safe working environment, free from hostility, offensiveness, bullying, intimidation and harassment, racial vilification and any form of unlawful discrimination.
Ok Tedi achieves success through open and honest communications with employees about job goals and performance, the delivery of targeted skill development programmes, productive annual performance reviews and feedback as well as competitive individual and team-based performance-based remuneration and benefits.
Ok Tedi is a FIFO operation working 12-hour shifts, four weeks on by four weeks off, although the expatriate rotation is longer at the moment based on COVID-19 quarantine requirements. Some managers, superintendents and employees from the local area rent accommodation and live on site in Tabubil and Kiunga.
OTML respects the rights of workers to be represented by a union. The organisation has had a productive working relationship with union executive members and engage in regular consultation and communication to assist in the quick resolution of grievances and ensure workforce alignment.
OTML has a proud record of nurturing and developing Papua New Guineans to progress their careers within the mining industry. This has enabled the localisation of many positions which are historically held by expats.
Training and Development within Ok Tedi
OTML recognises the need for the workforce to be flexible and have the capacity to change and apply new technology to maintain competitiveness. Ok Tedi provides an in-depth suite of training and development programmes commencing with site and departmental inductions through to externally delivered mining leadership courses. OTML aims to ensure that all employees are skilled and competent in the execution of their responsibilities and are offered the opportunity for personal growth consistent with business needs.
Star Mountains Training Institute:
OTML operates the Star Mountains Training Institute as a Registered Training Organisation in Tabubil through the Dr. Jacob Weiss Training Centre and is committed to the development of its most important resource – its employees. Since 1982, over 10,000 employees have completed education and training in some form. Programmes offered include Preferred Area Development, Graduate Development Scheme, Apprenticeships, employee on-the-job training both in-country and overseas.
Graduate Development Scheme:
OTML sponsors a Graduate Development Scheme, in which new university graduates are chosen and offered positions in their respective study disciplines that features mentoring, on the job experience, further training and career possibilities. They undergo a two-year training programme following which they are offered full-time roles depending on their performance and position availability.
Apprenticeship Trade Programme:
OTML offers an apprenticeship trade programme to meet its needs and contribute to the national pool of tradespeople. OTML encourages its business partners to also develop apprentices. OTML’s apprenticeship programme has been awarded strong endorsements and recommendations through the Papua New Guinea National Apprentice and Trade Testing Board with whom the company works closely to ensure the quality of its apprenticeship programme.
There has been a considerable investment made through scholarships for mine community students to undertake secondary, post-secondary and tertiary courses in PNG and overseas in order to support priority skills needs within the Western Province.
OTDF manages nine Flexible Open Distance Education centres operating in the Western Province. These centres provide access to secondary studies for hundreds of out of school youth and adults, allowing them to upgrade their qualifications to meet tertiary institution enrolment requirements.
Education infrastructure is vital for delivering education outcomes. The OTML Tax Credit Scheme has recently developed building improvements for the Montfort Primary School, as well as the construction of Oksapmin High School for students in the North Fly and Telefomin Districts. In 2017, the Tabubil International School was reopened with support from OTML, the community and an innovative community business initiative, in order to offer alternative higher quality schooling for children from the local communities.
The OTML Community Relations team is responsible for the planning, implementation and communication of OTML community relations programmes, such as environmental impact mitigation, compensation payments, local employment and benefit sharing opportunities, infrastructure development and services for the Western Province.
The OTML Community Relations team manages the dissemination of information to the communities and undertake formal and informal consultation. Every year, the Community Relations team completes a number of annual formal community visits to each of the 158 villages in the nine CMCA regions, which covers an area of more than 98,000 kilometres.
Over 20,000 people attend these meetings every year. Meetings are held with both men and women as well as with women separately to discuss issues specific to women and children. Formal meetings are also held with local, ward, provincial and national government authorities. In these forums, the communities and their leaders have the right to raise issues with OTML and the state that impact upon their livelihoods. OTML uses the meetings to provide feedback on issues previously raised and provide information updates on mining operations, environmental impacts, agreed compensation, statutory compensation, statutory compliance understanding and the awareness of applicable laws relating to lease management and social responsibility programmes managed through OTDF.
Western Province entities maintain a 33 percent interest in OTML, with a representation on the Ok Tedi Board of Directors. Ok Tedi engages with its stakeholders and maintain regular open and transparent dialogue with the mine associated communities and government. This dialogue is based on Free and Prior Informed Consent principles to which OTML subscribes.
Ok Tedi’s community development programmes have focused on developing partnerships with local communities, governments and businesses in a bid to help harness sustainable social and economic development in the Western Province and the Telefomin District. This approach ensures the community development programmes complement government initiatives and those of aid agencies and Non-Government Organisations working within the region.
The delivery and management of major community development programmes are primarily delivered through the Ok Tedi Development Foundation.
Indeed, OTML community development projects target women and children. Ok Tedi, through OTDF, has introduced various women’s programmes which recognise the significant social shift caused by development and the necessity for women to play a more active role in their communities. A key area of this is women’s leadership skills. These workshops aim to strengthen the existing village women’s groups so that they can tie into the PNG National Council of Women network. The focus of these workshops is on equipping women with the skills to assist them to become involved in the decision-making process.
Women leaders play an influential role in all mine community consultation processes and leaders’ meetings and are represented on the OTDF Board. A minimum of 10 percent of the CMCA Compensation package has been allocated for women and children and regional women’s associations have been set to make use of the funds for women and children projects.
In 2007, during the mine benefits stream negotiations for communities impacted by the OTML operations, each CMCA region was represented by one woman. The women were able to negotiate for 10 percent of the funds from the mine operations to be dedicated to the women and children programme. This was a significant achievement for women in PNG and reinforced women’s rights to representation at the highest levels of decision making on mine benefits for local communities.
The Memorandum of Agreement following the review specifically provided for recognition of women representatives on Village Planning Committee, the CMCA Association and the Board of the Ok Tedi Development Foundation.
In 2012, when the Mine Continuation Agreements came up for a five-year review, around 30 women leaders participated in the negotiation process. Each region was represented by three women negotiators with six from Mine Village CMCA. During the negotiations, the women increased the trust funding set-aside for women and children from 10 percent to 18 percent, dependent on the region. Support for the increase came from the male leaders as they recognised that the women leaders were facilitating programmes that benefit the whole village and the families.
Ok Tedi Women’s Network
Further, the Ok Tedi Women’s Network (OWN) was established to represent females in the Ok Tedi workforce and address issues including the identification of structural barriers to career progression, professional development needs, personal safety and health matters for its female personnel.
OWN provides a platform for women to have a voice and a support mechanism in which they can learn from other women who could have experienced similar issues.
The key objectives of OWN are:
· Creating a forum for exchanging ideas.
· Addressing safety and security matters of concern to female employees of OTML and resident spouses.
· Identify development pathways for female employees and impediments to progression.
· Encourage mentorship and training for female employees.
· Promote ways to improve the success of OTML in attracting and retaining female employees.
The Pasin Ok Tedi programme is an initiative of the OTML Executive Management Team and focuses on building an inclusive ‘One Team, Wan Pasin.’
The Pasin Ok Tedi Team consists of influential and renowned representatives from across the business who work with the Executive Leadership, Business Improvement and Safety Teams to transform the workplace culture of its business enabling Ok Tedi to uphold its values and achieve its vision.
The Pasin Ok Tedi Team’s goals are:
· To support Line Managers and everyone to develop a culture, where employees.
· Feel the sense of belonging and ownership.
· Give their best every day and continuously seek to improve.
· Are kept informed and involved.
· Enjoy the achievement of living up to their responsibilities.
· Realise their worth to the business.
· Help make Ok Tedi a leader of the pack.
· Help make Ok Tedi the employer of choice.
The people of the Star Mountains and the Fly River have traditionally learned their culture, language, knowledge and skills as part of village life. Now, since the mine has opened the area to outside influences, education is widely accepted by the Western Province communities as a way to improve their livelihood and contribute to the long-term economic and social development within the Western Province.
Ok Tedi has long supported local schools through the Tax Credit Scheme and has built and upgraded many new school classrooms across the Province. The transfer of the Community Education Service function to the Ok Tedi Development Foundation from Ok Tedi has consolidated community development initiatives for all mine associated communities. The OTDF has improved coordination of education and educational services with a number of partners including the Provincial Education Department and other development partners.
Indeed, COVID-19 continues to impact on operations and in March 2021, Ok Tedi suspended its operations for a second time.
As a result of a surge of cases at the mine site and in Papua New Guinea, OTML suspended operations for 14 days from Friday, 19th March. The suspension coincided with the PNG Government’s National Isolation Strategy that was introduced on Monday, 22nd March. The decision was made in accordance with OTML’s commitment to take all reasonably practical measures to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of all its employees, families, contractors and host communities and to ensure the resumption of operations in a safe, economical and timely manner for the benefit of all stakeholders.
During the temporary suspension of operations, the company introduced a mass testing programme within its operations in a bid to further mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 and ensure it resumed safe operations. As of the end of March 2021, over 10,000 test samples were collected from its employees, contractors, business partners and families. These were then sent to Australia for testing and regular updates were provided to the National Control Centre in Port Moresby.
Dr. Charlie Turharus, OTML Health Manager, said that the mass testing programme helped his medical team which consists of doctors and healthcare professionals from the Tabubil Hospital to significantly test and isolate COVID-19 cases. “Fortunately, almost all the cases we have recorded are asymptomatic or only showing mild to moderate symptoms,” said Dr. Turharus.
OTML’s mass testing programme has covered almost all the mine’s work areas including Kiunga and Bige where the firm operates its wharf and dredging operations respectively. Employees working in Port Moresby and at its regional exploration sites are also being tested. “Our priority is the safety, health and wellbeing of all our personnel, and we will ensure that this mass testing programme is implemented successfully so that we contain the spread of the virus and resume safe operation,” added Dr. Turharus.
Given the current state of the world, predicting exactly what the future will hold is harder than ever before. But, Managing Director and CEO, Werror, believes that Ok Tedi is well-placed to continue to thrive with the future in mind.
“Ok Tedi has a soul, and the workforce works with great pride knowing their efforts contribute to the development of PNG. We aim to become a role model in the mining industry in PNG.”