UPDATE 2-De Beers suspends operations at Canada's Snap Lake diamond mine

Fri Dec 4, 2015 2:13pm EST
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(Adds comments from De Beers on profit outlook, adds mine contractor numbers)

By Susan Taylor

TORONTO Dec 4 (Reuters) - De Beers Canada is suspending operations at its unprofitable Snap Lake diamond mine in the Northwest Territories due to poor market conditions, and said on Friday it will evaluate the Arctic mine's potential over the next year.

De Beers, 85 percent owned by Anglo American and 15 percent by the government of Botswana, said work to put the underground mine on care and maintenance has started and will last up to nine months.

The mine, which had 595 employees and 200 contractors, has not turned a profit since it began production in 2008. Despite efficiency gains in recent years, Snap Lake was not expected to become profitable for three years due to declining prices, said spokesman Tom Ormsby.

Technically challenging to mine, Snap Lake also had groundwater problems that added to high costs. Planned to operate until 2028, it produced 1.2 million carats last year.

De Beers is terminating 434 employees and will employ 120 for the suspension work. Ongoing care and maintenance operations will require about 70 staff, it said.

Another 41 employees have been transferred to Gahcho Kue mine, now being built in the Northwest Territories (NWT) with Mountain Province Diamonds, a 49-percent project partner. Sixty more could be transferred in 2016.

Gahcho Kue is due to start production in late 2016 and operate for 11 years.   Continued...