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Southeast Asia's biggest iron ore mine left deserted

By Duc Hung   March 21, 2021 | 06:00 pm PT
With a reserve of 544 million tons, an iron ore mine in central Vietnam has stood abandoned since 2011 following investment issues and environmental fears.
Thach Khe iron ore spreads 4,821 hectares (nearly 12,000 acres) in five coastal communes of Thach Ha District of central Ha Tinh Province.   Discovered in 1960, Thach Khe is currently the biggest iron ore in Southeast Asia with a reserve of 544 million tons.

Thach Khe iron ore mine covers 4,821 hectares (nearly 12,000 acres) of five coastal communes in Thach Ha District, central Ha Tinh Province. Discovered in 1960, Thach Khe is currently the biggest iron ore mine in Southeast Asia with a reserve of 544 million tons.

In 2008, Ha Tinh-based Thach Khe Iron JSC (TIC) started a project with a total investment capital of VND14.5 trillion ($627.61 million as per current exchange rate) in 50 years.  In this photo, workers are seen taking part in the project’s inauguration in September, 2009. Local authorities had back then expected the project would help create jobs for thousands of locals and serve the demand for both low-quality and high-quality iron ore for the domestic metallurgy industry.

In 2008, Ha Tinh-based Thach Khe Iron JSC (TIC) started the project with total investment capital of VND14.5 trillion ($627.61 million as per current exchange rate) over 50 years. In this photo, workers are seen taking part in the project’s inauguration in September, 2009. Local authorities back then had expected the project to help create jobs for thousands of locals and produce both low- and high-quality iron ore for the domestic metallurgy industry.

A scene at the Thach Khe iron ore mine in early 2011. By the end of 2011, workers had already finished stripping the soil layer on the surface to reach a depth of minus 34 meters above sea level and got 3,000 tons of ore. However, after that, the project encountered problems in mobilizing and contributing capital, leading to a series of consequences including delays in site clearance progress, lack of money to pay for the consultancy contractor and construction contractor to build technical design for the project and a resettlement area for households affected by the project.  Following those issues the government in November 2011, had to suspend the project to re-evaluate the technical design and restructure shareholders of TIC.

A scene at the Thach Khe iron ore mine in early 2011.
By the end of 2011, workers had already finished stripping the surface layer to reach a depth of 34 meters below sea level and extracted 3,000 tons of ore.
However, after that, the project encountered problems in mobilizing capital for site clearance, contractor payments and resettlement of affected households. Subsequently, the government in November 2011 had to suspend and re-evaluate the project amid TIC shareholder restructuring.

The main entrance to the mining factory remains closed and turns rusted as seen in mid-March 2021. Excavators that had once been used to serve the iron exploitation now stand still in the factory’s front yard.

The rusting main entrance to the factory remains closed in March 2021. Excavators once used to serve iron exploitation now stand idle in the front yard.

Trucks, cranes and barrels have all been rusted after being left untouched since 2011. At the end of 2016, the administration of Ha Tinh Province wrote to the central government, proposing to suspend the project for a series of reasons, including: the mining technology and techniques are not suitable with the geological characteristics of the mine, posing risks for the environment; the mode of ore transportation is unfeasible and shows low efficiency, which could affect the transport infrastructure in the area around the mine; and the consumption market for iron ore is uncertain.

Trucks, cranes and barrels have been left untouched since 2011. At the end of 2016, the administration of Ha Tinh Province wrote to the central government, proposing to suspend the project since mining technology and techniques were not suited to the geological characteristics of the mine, posing environmental risks; the mode of ore transportation was unfeasible and showed low efficiency, which could affect transport infrastructure in the area around the mine; and the consumption market for iron ore was uncertain.

An area that was one an open pit iron mine has now become a lake that is tens of meters deep.

An area that was once an open pit iron mine has now become a lake tens of meters deep.

Pipes that stretches hundreds of meters long are still left at the mining area until today.

Pipes that stretch hundreds of meters long remain in situ.

Houses of local people in the mining area these days. These houses had originally set to be dismantled to give space for the project.  As planned, a total 839 hectares of residential areas must be cleared for the project and 3,952 families would be resettled but by far, only 100 of them have been relocated.

Local housing within the mining area previously designated for demolition. As planned, a total 839 hectares of residential area must be cleared for the project and 3,952 families resettled but thus far, only 100 have been relocated.

A building that was used as office for companies that lease out construction machinery and equipment and building material for the project in the mining area is now abandoned.

This former office building was used by contractors supplying the project with construction machinery, equipment and building materials.

As the project has been left untouched for years, many households subjected to be relocated have returned to their old houses. Bui Quang Dao, 56, said his family had received VND1 billion of compensation to move to a resettlement are that are 3km from the mine but for the past three years, he had returned to the old house and make use of the land around to grow crops and raise cattle. Dao said once the project is resumed, he will move out immediately.

Since the project has been left untouched for years, many households subjected to relocation have returned to their old homes.
Bui Quang Dao, 56, said his family had received VND1 billion ($43,300) in compensation to move to a resettlement area three kilometers from the mine but for the past three years, he had returned to grow crops and raise cattle. Dao said once the project resumes, he would move out immediately.

A herd of cows of local people are seen in the mining area.

A herd of cows graze within the mining area.

Locals go fishing at lake inside the mining area. A provincial official told VnExpress on Friday that the province had carefully considered the option of suspend the project.   The mine lies way too close to the sea and the town of Ha Tinh, which is the province’s capital and if the exploitation is to continue, it would leave certain impacts on human health. Several weeks ago, the province had sent another proposal to suspend the project to government, he said.

Locals often go fishing within the mining area. A provincial official told VnExpress on Friday the locality has considered the option of suspending the project. The mine lies way too close to the sea and town of Ha Tinh, the provincial capital, and if exploitation is to continue, it would impact human health. "Several weeks ago, the province had sent another proposal to suspend the project to the government," he said.

 
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