By Daria Sito-Sucic
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - British-based mineral exploration company Adriatic Metals plans to start production at its Vares Silver Project in central Bosnia in November, the first mine to open in Europe in over a decade, its CEO Paul Cronin said in an interview on Monday.
Around 800,000 tons of polymetallic ore will be dug annually from the mine, from which around 65,000 tons of lead-silver concentrate and 90,000 tons of zinc concentrate is expected to be produced following the six-year exploration and a $200 million investment.
The annual ore exports seen at around 800 million Bosnian marka ($436 million) will make a significant impact on the impoverished Balkan country's economy.
"This project grows Bosnia's GDP by 2%, that's a huge increase," Cronin told Reuters at the company's new offices in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.
"We currently have resource of 21 million tonnes of polymetallic ore that includes copper, silver, zinc, lead and gold," he said. "Mining in Bosnia has a big future because you've got a huge potential for exploration that would lead to new mines."
The company has spent $40 million on exploration so far and has been approved another $30 million to continue with it, Cronin said.
Adriatic Metals, which in 2017 acquired Bosnia's Eastern Mining, currently employs 290 workers and is in the process of hiring 80 more employees. It also has 250 permanent contractors and has hired around 300 construction workers on its various projects.
After analysing environmental and health risks from the mine, the company decided to clean and rebuild an old mining plant, for which purpose it had to construct a 25-kilometre road connecting Vares with the town of Zenica, Cronin said.
"The mine will be one of the lowest-impact mines in the world," he said. "We've built something that's very small, designed to fit sympathetically in the environment."
The company has helped a local rail company to restore a railway line after 25 years so that the ore can be shipped via Sarajevo to the Croatian port of Ploce and further on to smelters in Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Spain and Italy.
"We specifically created products that suits European smelters, because Europeans need to produce their own metals or Europe will always be at the mercy of places such as Russia or China," he said.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by David Evans)