Critical Metals

Authorities are taking action to address tantalum theft in Dar es Salaam, a key shipping hub for tantalum from Central Africa.

Tantalite thefts along the shipping route in Tanzania have not been ignored. An investigation is underway and numerous arrests have been made in connection with a high profile case last month in which 44 metric tons (mt) of ore worth $10 million was stolen.

Last month a container owned by a Rwandan company and destined for Italy went missing in Dar es Salaam. The container reportedly held 44 mt of tantalite from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It seems that, while en route, the consignment,which was valued at $10 million, was diverted to an inland container depot (ICD), or dry port.

The shipment was found at an ICD, with accompanying documents citing the value of the ore at a mere $22,000 and the destination changed to Romania. Following the recovery of the container, three ICD operations—PMM, Rudi Holding and Damco—became subjects in the ensuing investigation.

Tanzania Ports Authority Transportation Minister, Harrison Mwakyembe,  is determined to resolve the issue “It doesn’t matter how much they have invested. If they are found to have, in one way or the other, been involved in any malpractices, they will be shut down,” the minister warned.

To date, a number of Tanzania officials have been arrested in conjunction with the theft. The agencies that they were plucked from include the Intelligence and Security Services, Revenue Authority, Minerals Audit Agency and Ports Authority.

Other individuals have also been arrested including a technician geologist and two individuals from a private clearing and forwarding company.

Not the first time

Though last month’s 44 mt theft drew a lot of attention due to the value, it was not an isolated event. At least 11 containers of tagged, conflict free iTSCi material have been affected by such thefts. And tantalum market participants such as  Ulba Metallurgical Plant and capacitor manufacturer AVX are also listed as victims of these crimes.

In addition to tantalum market participants getting burned, Maersk and Safmarine have threatened to stop shipping the mineral from Dar es Salaam.

Dar es Salaam port: a key shipping hub with a bad reputation

Dar port is a key shipping hub for central Africa and  it is used by many in the tantalum trade. It also has the potential to provide Tanzania with increasing economic benefits. But the port has developed a very bad reputation with complaints ranging from extremely long clearing times to outright theft.

Mwakyembe has been cleaning ship.

The DRC is a major user of Dar port but a report found that over half of the nation’s traders’ containers had mysteriously disappeared. A slew of Tanzania Ports Authority personnel were fired last year in efforts to polish up the port’s reputation and smooth out the relationship with the DRC, which suggested it may take its business elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Tanzania has also been trying to court landlocked nations, such as Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, many of whom do significant amounts of shipping through Mombasa. However, given this month’s elections, and other issues, many people are looking to avoid sending materials through through Kenya.

Tanzania has recently been able to establish new and potentially lucrative relationships with Uganda and the World Food Program. This and the efforts displayed so far may warrant some confidence that the Tanzanian authorities will be serious about fighting and discouraging crime.

Furthermore, apart from Mombasa, the most feasible alternatives to Dar port lie in southern Africa. Most participants in the tantalum industry, who source metal in the DRC or Rwanda, are not likely to rush to make that switch.

In addition to calling on Tanzania to take action against the recent criminal activity, Rwanda also sent a delegation to Tanzania hoping to hash out a solution so that is not necessary to look for an alternative shipping point.

Kemet, a capacitor manufacturer, has a closed pipeline supply operation whereby it sources ore in Katanga in the DRC. That company already ships its ore to South Africa to be processed into an intermediate product before it leaves the continent.

But, AVX has a similar supply operation and Peter Collis, VP of tantalum products told Metal-Pages the company does not believe abandoning Dar port for the alternative—going through five borders to ship from South Africa—was justified.

“The first shipment we did was more fraught with difficulties than when we went through Dar es Salaam,” he said.

 

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