Country Listing

Mauritania Table of Contents


Copper, Gypsym, Phosphates, and Oil


Ore-loading facility near Zouîrat
Courtesy Embassy of Mauritania, Washington

In 1967 the Mauritanian government formed a joint venture company with French and other interests to create the Mining Company of Mauritania (Société des Mines de Mauritanie--SOMINA). SOMINA was created to exploit copper deposits at Akjoujt. Operations began in 1973 but closed in 1975 because of the combination of high operating costs (particularly for fuel) and falling world commodity prices for SOMINA's low-grade ore. In 1975 the company was sold to SNIM. SNIM reopened the mine and continued to operate it at a loss until 1978, when the government separated SOMINA from SNIM and closed the mine. In the early 1980s, plans were laid to reopen the mines with backing from the Jordan-based Arab Mining Company of Inchiri (Société Arabe des Mines de l'Inchiri--SAMIN). By 1987, however, SAMIN had abandoned plans to operate the copper mine because of continued low world commodity prices and the high costs of processing the low-grade ore with its high arsenic content. In a related development, SAMIN planned to open a plant at Akjoujt to process copper tailings for gold content. Operations were scheduled to begin in 1988.

In 1973 SNIM began exploitation of large deposits of gypsum located about fifty kilometers northeast of Nouakchott. Total reserves of 98 percent pure gypsum were estimated at 1 billion tons. SNIM's operations during the 1970s entailed the export by road of roughly 17,000 tons per year to cement factories in Senegal. Senegal in turn sold cement to Mauritania on a rebate basis. Rising transportation costs forced a halt to operations in 1981. In 1984 production of gypsum resumed under the newly created SAMIA. SNIM held equal shares in SAMIA with the Kuwait Foreign Trading, Contracting, and Investment Company. Output in 1985 was 5,470 tons, which were consumed locally in a crushing and bagging operation that imported clinker from Senegal to make cement. Plans in 1987 called for resuming exports of gypsum to Senegal by sea once the new Chinese-built Friendship Port at Nouakchott became operational (see Transportation and Communications , this ch.).

In 1984 a consortium discovered large deposits of phosphates near the Senegalese border. Nonetheless, by 1987 no plans existed to exploit these deposits (estimated at 95 million tons of rock, averaging approximately 20 percent of phosphate pentoxide). The high cost of building the infrastructure and facilities needed to exploit the deposits, estimated in 1984 at US$400 million, made exploitation unlikely for the foreseeable future.

In 1985 seismic surveys conducted jointly by Occidental Oil Company of the United States, the Chinese Petroleum Corporation of Taiwan, and Yukong Limited of South Korea indicated a high possibility of petroleum and natural gas reserves in Mauritanian waters. In 1987 the Amoco Oil Company signed an agreement with the government for a production-sharing contract to conduct offshore explorations in a 920,000-hectare tract west of Nouakchott. The company began seismic acquisition work in late 1987 and planned to drill exploratory wells in 1988.

Data as of June 1988