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Venezuela restarts nickel output at asset taken over from Anglo

By Silvia Antonioli

LONDON, Dec (Shanghai: 600875.SS - news) 17 (Reuters) - Venezuela has restarted production from the Loma de Niquel ferronickel asset it took from mining giant Anglo American (LSE: AAL.L - news) in 2012 after cancelling its licenses, data from an industry body showed this week.

Information on Venezuela is patchy but the International Nickel Study Group (INSG) numbers indicated that the country produced 2,700 tonnes of nickel in the first 10 months of this year, after producing nothing in 2013.

Loma de Niquel is Venezuela's sole nickel producing asset. At full capacity it would produce almost 1 percent of the world's nickel output.

Diversified miner Anglo had a 91.4 percent stake in Loma de Niquel until 2012, when the Venezuelan government under late president Hugo Chavez cancelled 13 of its concessions and refused to renew three others, forcing the company to abandon its operations in the country.

Nickel production from Venezuela fell from 8,100 tonnes in 2012 to nothing in 2013. In 2011 it had produced over 14,000 tonnes.

The data shows that production resumed at a rate of 200 tonnes per month in January and increased to 300 tonnes per month from April.

Although this is still much below capacity, the restart and increase in production is a positive sign for the once buoyant Venezuelan mining sector, which has been struggling with lack of investment, labour issues and outdated technology.

INSG, an intergovernmental organisation, said its data is estimated and provisional.

Loma de Niquel is now managed by a government subsidiary, Petroleos de Venezuela, according to two mining industry sources. The first source said that it is exporting ferro nickel to countries such as the United States, Belgium, India, South Korea and China.

Petroleos de Venezuela was not immediately available to comment.

Anglo American had invested hundreds of million of dollars in its nickel subsidiary in Venezuela and cessation of production at Loma de Niquel helped to reduce Anglo's total nickel output by 12 percent in 2013.

In April, Anglo launched arbitration to seek compensation from Venezuela. This is one of many compensation cases brought against the Latin American country.

"Anglo American's principal claim for compensation relates to the expropriation of processing and other non-mining assets of Loma," a spokesman for Anglo American said, adding that these assets included a metallurgical processing facility, a stockpile of ferronickel and other inventories and equipment. (Additional reporting by Diego Ore in Caracas; Editing by Michael Urquhart)