Australian mineral resource company Highlands Pacific has commenced operations at the $1.5bn Ramu Nickel/Cobalt project following the official opening by Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Operated by Ramu Nico Management, the nickel mine is situated at the Basamuk process plant, 75km west of the provincial capital of Madang.

Highlands currently owns an 8.56% interest in Ramu, but with the repayment of project debt by 2018, its stake will increase to 11.3% at no cost.

Following repayment, the company has the option to purchase an additional 9.25% interest at fair market value, raising its stake in the project to 20.55%.

The Chinese Metallurgical Group Corporation (McC) manages and operates the Ramu Joint Venture, which was formally ratified in October 2005.

Large scale construction began in 2008 and was completed by 2011, with the project now being progressively commissioned.

The Ramu Nickel/Cobalt project comprises a laterite open-pit mining, 135km slurry pipeline, high pressure acid leaching, deep sea tailings placement (DSTP) and other supporting facilities.

Nickel metal and cobalt aggregate at the mine totals 31,000 tonnes and 3,000 tonnes per year respectively.

Highlands Pacific MD John Gooding said, "Ramu is a very modern project – one of the few built in the past decade.

"I am sure in the years to come it will be seen as a very important addition to Papua New Guinea’s continued transformation through its value added exports and investment in the human skills of Papua New Guinea."