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Controversy surrounds sand exploration project in Mannar Island

Sri Lanka’s Geological Survey and Mines Bureau says that sand exploration carried out on Mannar Island by an Australian mineral exploration company is unlawful.

Titanium Sands Limited had recently signalled intentions to embark on a mining project, eyeing 265 metric tonnes of precious sand, after carrying out exploration activities since 2015.

“To date, 3920 hand shell auger drill holes have been completed,” the Australian company said in its project report.

It claimed that it had carried out exploration activities after acquiring all exploration licences belonging to Srinel Holdings Ltd., a Mauritius Company from which it had purchased all shares by 2018.

“According to our procedure, and the act, if a person or a company obtains a licence for exploration, they don’t have a right to transfer the licence,” Hema Liyanarachchi, a GSMB Director told News 1st.

Titanium Sands Ltd. said it hopes to carry out mining on the island, with initial production to take place on a mineral resource zone of 93 metric tonnes among which 5.24 percent are heavy minerals.

The project report showed that the company expects a metric tonne of Ilmenite to be sold at 209 US dollars, Rutile at 1209 US dollars, Zircon at 1589 US dollars, and Garnet at 357 US dollars.

If the proper procedures are followed, seven percent of the total cost incurred over these industrial minerals until the time of shipping would have to be paid by the company as royalty fees to the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau.

In a project report seen by News 1st, the Australian company said mining would be carried out by dredging, which is a method that can drastically affect the marine environment in the area.

Lanka Mineral Sands Ltd., which is the state authority tasked with mining, processing and exporting of heavy mineral sands, has not obtained an exploration or mining licence to carry out activities on the Mannar Island.

This is despite being in possession of an ilmenite processing plant and carrying out commercial-level production of minerals.

The state-owned company is currently operating only half of its 100,000-tonne product capacity, according to Titanium Sands Ltd.

“These international companies come to developing nations and extract the raw material giving basically peanuts for the country and a whole set of environmental and social issues,” Dr Sampath Seneviratne, from the Colombo University told.

He added that Mannar Island is a prominent tourist destination that is enriched by natural resources, that could be destroyed as a result of the mining project that is to be carried out by dredging.

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