St Barbara Ltd’s Solomon Islands subsidiary Gold Ridge Mining Limited (GRML) has withdrawn personnel from its Gold Ridge mine following a serious escalation in security and associated safety concerns.

GRML director Bob Vassie says, “Safety is the company’s highest priority. We have taken the decision to withdraw our employees from site because we cannot assure their continued safety and security in the current circumstances.”

The decision to withdraw all staff from the Gold Ridge site last week followed a number of recent serious security incidents which have been growing in frequency and severity. These incidents have been reported to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF). Bob Vassie said that subsequent to the withdrawal of GRML personnel from site, a number of people from local communities and illegal miners had entered the mine site and the RSIPF was in attendance.

The company is liaising with local authorities. Once the RSIPF is able to confirm that strong and effective security has been re-established at Gold Ridge, a return to site will be considered so that immediate options for the mine can be assessed.

Operations at Gold Ridge were suspended in April this year due to torrential rainfall and ensuing flooding. The company has been unable to resume production due to a number of factors beyond its control, including the loss of stable bridge access across the Tinahulu River on the public road to site, and the continued presence of large numbers of illegal miners camped in the open pit mining areas.

The Force Majeure conditions announced in April remain in place. Since returning to site in June, the company has prepared the processing plant for care and maintenance, and commenced lowering the water levels in the tailings storage facility in accordance with the site stabilization plan submitted to the Solomon Islands Government.

GRML has continued to pay the entire Gold Ridge workforce since the suspension of operations in early April. GRML announced on July 18 that with no foreseeable prospect of mining operations re-commencing this calendar year it was necessary to reduce its workforce to levels more appropriate for the limited scale of activities and dewatering.

The planned redundancies were communicated to employees last week, and reduce the local workforce from about 570 to 160 people. The expatriate workforce has also been significantly reduced. All redundant employees will be paid their full entitlements.

Options for the future of the mine continue to be actively considered and discussed with the Solomon Islands Government.

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