ECONOMY

Cypriot mine sees demand, prices expected to improve

A copper mine in Cyprus thought to be the oldest in the world plans to boost output this year to 6,500 tons of copper cathode annually in order to tap into an expected rebound in demand and prices. Hellenic Copper Mines (HCM) believes there are still an estimated 200,000 tons of contained copper metal in ore reserves at Skouriotissa, an open-cast mine operating for the best part of 4,000 years on the southern foothills of the Troodos mountain range in central Cyprus. Famed since antiquity for its copper, it is thought Cyprus lent its name to the Latin word for the metal, cuprum. «Marketing the product was never a problem, we have one of the best-quality coppers in the world and Europe is a net importer so we are near a very large market. But demand, which affects prices, is cyclical. «Right now, we are in a low price cycle and we are sure it is going to change soon,» HCM Managing Director Constantinos Xydas told Reuters. Based on its reserves assessment, the mine has a projected life of at least 10 more years at a production rate of 6,500 tons annually. HCM had planned a major expansion of output two years ago but those plans were put on hold, prompted by the slump on commodity markets. Its output now averages 5,500 tons annually. «There was subdued demand for basic commodities and copper was no exception. Copper is fairly low right now so the company turned its focus on steadying the production levels and curtailing production costs,» said Xydas. By contrast with the manual labor of ancient times, copper at Skouriotissa is now extracted by hydrometallurgy, a process of transferring the contained copper ore into a solution which is then collected on plastic leaching pads and channelled into ponds. There, copper cathodes are extracted through electrolysis. The company believes there are up to 15 million tons of high-grade ore and 48 million tons of low-grade ore in a 10-km (6-mile) radius around Skouriotissa, some 45 km (8 miles) northwest of the capital Nicosia. Hellenic Copper Mines is a venture of Cyprus’s Hellenic Mining Company and Greece’s metallurgy group Mytilineos, both owning 39 percent, and Australia’s Oxiana resources, which has a 15-percent stake in the firm. A towering moonscape visible for miles, Skouriotissa (meaning «slag heaps») earned its name from the ancient black spoil dumps surrounding the present mine area and dating from 2500-2000 BC. «This is the most ancient mine worldwide still in operation,» said Xydas. Cyprus plans to supply Greece with all the Skouriotissa copper it needs for the manufacture of bronze medals for the Athens Olympics in 2004. «We thought we would donate the copper needed from our plant. The most ancient mine in the world still in operation will give copper to an age-old ritual, which are the Olympic Games,» he said. The copper from Skouriotissa, shaped in ancient talents, will sail from an ancient port to Greece in the spring of 2003. «The international market slump – events such as the September 11 attacks – came much later, after the downturn on the Athens bourse had already begun,» said financial daily Naftemboriki yesterday.