Iron ore

Background to Liberia’s iron ore mining sector


The Holland Syndicate

The inhabitants of the area nowadays known as the Republic of Liberia knew about the occurrence of iron ore in their territory as early as 1555. They were also familiar with its processing and use. Consequently, when a Dutch geologist, working for the Holland Syndicate, named H. Terpstra, while he was searching for diamonds hit the iron ore formations of Bomi Hills in 1934 he did not discover the ore in the real sense of the word as the people living in this region, the Gola, had already had this knowledge for centuries. Terpstra rather revealed to the outside world for the first time details of its existence. It should be noted that the Syndicate’s exploration activities in this region were made possible as the Gola people no longer put up resistance against the Americo-Liberian government from Monrovia.

The Bomi Hills iron ore appeared to be extremely high-grade ore. It had an iron content (Fe-content) of over 65% and the deposits were estimated to be about 50 millions tons. Its potential looked very promising. With the proper knowledge of the international markets, the availability of expertise in mining it and the proper infrastructure these hills represented an immeasurable wealth. The Dutch explorers of the Holland Syndicate lacked the necessary know-how of the iron ore industry and the related trade. Moreover, they were more interested in diamonds. Therefore they contacted a group of fellow-Dutchmen, working for a Dutch firm with wide experience in mining and trading activities, Wm. H. Muller & Company, which continued the investigations.

The Dutch Muller Company

The Dutch company of Muller sent a team of experts further to investigate the treasure which was still hidden under a cover of thick tropical forest and located in an area only accessible by foot along a trail which was cut as the explorers advanced. In those days, only a few roads existed in and around the nation’s capital, Monrovia, and on the Firestone plantation near Harbel. The findings of the Dutch explorers and the report of the company’s chief geologist, W.F.C. Engelbert van Bevervoorde, were enough reasons for the Dutch to start negotiations with the government of President Edwin Barclay for a mining concession. However, the lack of infrastructure seriously hampered the start of any mining operations. There were no roads from Monrovia to the Atlantic coast, where the iron ore had to be shipped to the overseas markets. The distance from the Bomi Hills to the Atlantic coast was at least 40 miles: to Monrovia about 40 miles, and to Robertsport, the capital of Grand Cape Mount County slightly more, 46 miles. Moreover, there was no proper harbor at the coast – in fact nowhere at the about 400 miles coastline of Africa’s first republic. All loading and unloading then still took place with the use of ‘ surf-boats’. These small, traditional boats brought the cargo from the cargo vessels to the shore or from the coast to the cargo vessels, which could not pass the dangerous surf, characteristic for this part of the West African coast.

The Dutch NEEP Company

The negotiations between the Dutch and the Liberian Government discontinued when there was no agreement on the amount of taxes to be paid. Another Dutch firm followed in Muller's footsteps. This company, named the Noord Europeesche Erts en Pyriet Maatschappij (NEEP), conducted in 1936 and 1937 extensive surveys and explorations in the Bomi Hills area. In 1937 the Dutch company succeeded in concluding a mining concession agreement with the Liberian Government. The Dutch obtained the right to prospect and develop the Bomi Hills iron ore deposits and promised to construct at their own expense port facilities either at Monrovia or at Cape Mount. According to the concession agreement, ships belonging to the NEEP were to pay no harbor and other dues and the company agreed to pay a royalty of 4 cents for each ton of iron ore exported – though if the f.o.b. (free on board) Monrovia price would rise above US $ 3.00 a ton every twelve cents increase would raise the royalty with one cent.

Surprisingly, however, the Barclay Administration then decided to discontinue the Dutch company’s operations in the country. The Government suspected that the NEEP was a front for German financial interests and it officially declared that the involvement of “Nazi-funds’ warranted the cancellation of the agreement. It was 1937 and Germany was preparing for the Second World War. In reality, however, the alleged German financial interests consisted of the investment capital of German Jews who had fled from Germany and had settled in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

The decision of the Barclay Administration to expel the Dutch company is surprising for at least two reasons. First, Liberia had always claimed a neutral foreign policy and in those days it continued to do so. Secondly, at the time the decision was taken, in 1937, the Germany nazi-philosophy and its hostile attitude towards neighboring countries had not yet reached the stage of outright aggression or war activities.


Index Iron Ore



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