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KUANTAN: Will Sungai Lembing, once a prosperous tin mining town near here, enjoy a new lease of life following the government’s idea to revive the tin mining industry in Malaysia? Once known as the “El Dorado of the East”, the underground tunnels here were the longest and deepest in the world until the 1980s when world tin prices dropped, resulting in the collapse of the industry. Only two mining companies operate on a small-scale here, but Sungai Lembing assemblyman Datuk Md Sohaimi Mohamed Shah is optimistic that there could be a pot of gold waiting for interested parties if they planned to venture into tin mining. He said the two mining firms had been working with the cooperation of the Pahang State Development Corporation, but many people were unaware of their presence. 

“The town is no longer famous for tin mining. But if the government is serious about reviving the industry, the ministry (Water, Land and Natural Resources) should get down to work. “I believe with guidance, more parties will be interested to reopen or start new tin mines here. “Tin mining has a lot of potentials and the people here have seen it in the past, so reintroducing it in Sungai Lembing will be good news to many and boost the economy. “There is a huge volume of tin deposits here and with studies, the soil can be dredged,” he said yesterday.

Sohaimi said many were skeptical about investing in tin mining due to uncertain in prices and they feared a repeat of the massive drop in global prices, which could force them to cease business. Myah Mines tin mine contract manager Badrul Hisham Hasim said it would be good news if the government’s plan became a reality. “It will mark the return of the once-lucrative industry. But let’s wait for the government’s announcements as this is a proposal,” he said, adding that the company started operating in 2013. A tin mining operator, who declined to be named, said the price of tin was between US$19,000 and US$20,000 (RM78,500 and RM83,000) per tonne, compared with US$15,000 per tonne several years ago. “It reached US$23,000 per tonne in 2013. The industry seems promising, but many are not prepared to take the risk, fearing they might suffer losses after investing in setting up the plant, buying machinery and hiring foreign workers.

“The two companies in Sungai Lembing have skilled workers from China and Indonesia. Not many locals are prepared to do the job, which is arduous.  “If the tin price remains promising, the government’s move will bring a windfall,” he said, adding that the common mining technique was open-cast mining. He said tin mining companies would send ore to Malaysia Smelting Corporation Bhd, one of the world’s largest tin smelters, in Penang before it was processed and exported to South Korea and Japan, where it would be used in the electronics industry. A state Land and Mines Office spokesman said companies interested in obtaining permits to start new mines must submit applications to the state government as most of the land had been gazetted for tourism, plantation and other purposes.

“It’s not easy to identify and approve land for mining as it might affect the previous planning of a certain area. “The suitability of a mine’s location is important and several factors, including safety, have to be taken into consideration.” Until the late 1970s, Malaysia was the world’s premier producer of tin. Mining was carried out in Perak, Pahang, Selangor and Negri Sembilan. Sungai Lembing was once a major producer of the underground tin before mines were closed in 1986 due to high operational costs, drop in prices and low production. Source -NST

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