Sri Lanka recommissions disputed Ilmenite factory

[TamilNet, Friday, 27 August 2004, 14:26 GMT]
The Government of Sri Lanka will re-commission the disputed Pulmoddai Ilmenite factory next Wednesday 1 September, officials said. The factory was closed sixteen years ago after the Liberation Tigers blasted its fresh water supply lines from the Yan Oya River. The factory processed sand excavated from the beaches of Pulmoddai, 52 kilometres north of Trincomalee, to separate Ilmenite and Rutile ores for export. Sea Tigers sank two foreign ships that were loading Ilmenite sand off the Pulmoddai coast in 1996 and 1997.

Liberation Tigers say that the sands of Pulmoddai belong to the Tamils and hence revenues should benefit the people of the northeast.

The factory is operated by the Lanka Mineral Sands Company Limited. The re-commissioning of the factory was undertaken by the Ministry of Infrastructure Development in the Eastern Province. Mr. A. L. M Athaullah is the minister in charge of Eastern Infrastructure development.

Sands were excavated and transported to a processing plant near Dambulla. Plans to build multi million dollar plant in Pulmoddai to produce Titanium Dioxide in 1989 were shelved after war broke out between the Tigers and the Sri Lanka army in June 1990.

Pulmoddai has one of the richest deposits of Titanium ore in the world. The sands in the area contain ilmenite and rutile, raw materials for manufacturing Titanium Dioxide.

Almost 5 million tons of ilmenite are known to be in the region, which can theoretically be mined at the rate of 150,000 tons a year. In addition, rutile and zircon can be mined at the rates of 10,000 tons and 6,000 tons respectively.

However, in practice, Sri Lanka can only produce 50,000 tons of ilmenite and 3000 tons of rutile annually. 70,000 tons of crude zircon are exported, mainly as over 200,000 tons were stockpiled when the Sri Lankan government lost its ability to refine it when an LTTE assault cut off supplies of fresh water.

The port at Pulmoddai is said to be vulnerable to weather, and can be used by shipping only between April and October. Any foreign ships moving mineral sands have heavy Sri Lankan naval escort.

The Sri Lankan government's main customers for Ilmenite are Ishihara Sangyo Kaisha Ltd. (Japan), ACI (US), Derby & Co (British), Currumbin Minerals Ltd. (Australia), and Rare Earth's Ltd. (India's state-owned firm).


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