The end of December 2020 saw ASX-listed gold miner Perseus Mining again fulfill its commitment – to deliver its third operating mine, Côte d’Ivoire-based Yaouré before year-end according to its stretch target (the company achieved similar results at its Sissingué operation in January 2018).

Having poured first gold on 17 December, five weeks ahead of schedule, the company is on track to meet its 500 000 oz pa production target by FY, 2022, MD and CEO JEFF QUARTERMAINE tells LAURA CORNISH.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 1, 2021
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Delivering a larger-scale gold mine in a year plagued with COVID-19 challenges makes the delivery of the company’s 90% owned, US$265 million Yaouré mine ahead of schedule even more impressive and cements as Perseus Mining’s position in Côte d’Ivoire and indeed, West Africa.

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(Sissingué is also based in Côte d’Ivoire, as is a large portion of the company’s exploration assets having acquired Exore Resources in September 2020).

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There can be little doubt now that the company will achieve its 500 000 ozpa gold production target, in turn establishing the company as a multi-jurisdictional, mid-tier, vertically integrated gold miner (by international standards), capable of exploring, building and operating gold mines in West Africa.

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“Yaouré is clearly a very important piece of the Perseus puzzle – further diversifying our portfolio while generating substantial quantities of cash to feed back into the business and give back to our shareholders,” Quartermaine starts.

“It adds significantly to our production portfolio. Over and above this the mine is likely to be a very long life asset. We’ve hardly scratched the surface of the mineral endowment on the property and will do a lot of work in this regard to extend Yaouré ’s lifespan beyond the current eight and a half years currently indicated in the feasibility study,” he continues.

The delivery of Yaouré under trying conditions

While peak construction at Yaouré was minimally impacted due to COVID-19, fortunately the result of EPCM contractor Lycopodium securing all equipment items prior to any country lockdown (for the most part), Quartermaine notes the project was not without any challenges.

Read more articles about the effect of COVID-19 on the mining industry

“Nonetheless, we improvised to minimise the impact. Commissioning start-up for example commenced in late October and was done using stand-by generators.” Permanent power was switched on on-site on 21 November.

At the peak of construction, there were over 2 000 people on site at one stage – many from the local villages where health control procedures were difficult to manage. The company enforced a quarantine period in the capital city of Yamoussoukro.

Regular health and temperature checks were conducted in addition to enforcement of social distancing and wearing masks. “We were vigilant with the protocols we deployed and to date have only encountered three positive COVID-19 tests.

Expatriates unfortunately weren’t able to travel home, some of them working between 14 and 16 weeks without leaving the site. Despite the stress, our team were determined to see the job through and did so with full commitment.”

Consequently, first ore was passed through the crusher on 12 November, and first ore delivered to the mills on 27 November. This saw the company recover just over 2 000 oz of gold during the first nine days of December.

Initially, lower grade oxide ore, mainly from decommissioned heap leach pads, will be processed in the Yaouré plant pending access to higher grade fresh ore from the CMA pit.

“During the first five years of the mine’s lifespan, our DFS forecasts annual gold production averaging around 215 000 oz at 2 g/t at a weighted average all-in-site-cost of (AISC) of approximately US$750/oz.”

An updated ‘Life of Mine Plan’ for Yaouré, taking the actual commissioning date, current mining rates, operating costs and possible increases in mineral resources into account from nearby satellite pits, is scheduled for release in the March 2021 quarter.

The process plant ramp-up is progressing well and the mine has successfully hit targeted throughput rates for short periods of time. Mining is going exceptionally well Quartermaine points out.

“We are well ahead of schedule (30%) in terms of moving material – a big task considering we need to remove waste material out of the CMA pit to expose fresh ore.

This means there is a good chance of mining fresh ore a few months ahead of schedule – all further contributing to the success of the project and the returns we can make to our stakeholders.”

Exploration work has taken equal priority on site – there are a number of pits on the surface and potential for underground off the side of the CMA pit and the intention is to gain access to these areas as quickly as possible.

As such, Perseus Mining conducted a three dimensional seismic survey over the Yaouré property in 2020 to delineate bigger ore body structures to help refine target areas for drilling.

“The results observed to date have been eye opening and our geophysicists are excited about how our ore body dips down and along strike. If the ore body carries the same mineralisation beyond the pit boundaries, we could have a sizeable underground mine,” Quartermaine enthuses.

In light of this, the company will commence with a sizeable drilling campaign in H2, 2021 once the satellite pits have been confirmed and scheduled.

“Being able to successfully develop the Yaouré gold mine, ahead of schedule and under budget during a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted many businesses around the world, is a testament to the skill, resilience and dedication of our in-house development team, technical and commercial support staff, our contractors and consultants,” Quartermaine highlights.

“We are now looking forward to achieving our next target of increasing our production to more than 500 000 oz of gold per year at a cash margin of not less than $400/oz in FY, 2022.

“We will also extend our capacity to consistently produce gold at these levels for many years to come by organically increasing our ore reserve inventory through successful near-mine exploration programmes across our three mines,” he concludes.