Despite unprecedented challenges driven by COVID-19, First Quantum Minerals (FQM) achieved the highest-ever annual copper production at its Sentinel mine in Kalumbila in 2020, helping to support job retention in the process.

The mine in North-Western Province recorded a 14% year-on-year increase in its annual copper production for the year, producing 251,216 tonnes of copper due to a significant increase in annual throughput to 57 million tonnes, the company reported to shareholders this week.

First Quantum enjoys continued close dialogue with the Zambian government, and sees this as a critical factor in preserving its partnership with the government, especially in the current challenging times, said the company.

FQM Chairman and CEO Philip Pascall said the mine would continue to maintain defensive health and sanitary protocols while also supporting public health authorities in each jurisdiction as necessary to combat COVID-19.

“We continue to prioritise the health and safety of our workforce and extend all efforts to protect our operations from COVID-19 and help mitigate the spread through the communities.”

“I am very proud of the efforts of our entire First Quantum team in this regard. In addition, we recently published our policy on climate change which formalizes and further demonstrates our commitment to the environment and reducing emissions across the business,” he said.

Globally the company recorded a gross profit of US$443 million for the fourth quarter of 2020, and US$1.1 billion for the full year. Total copper production was 203,171 tonnes in the quarter and 778,911 tonnes for the full year with annual production increasing by 14% from 2019.

Sentinel mine had performed exceptionally well and was a big contributor to the record production, said Mr Pascall.

“We expect our 2021 copper production to grow above 785,000 tonnes. This makes First Quantum one of the top global copper producers with one of the largest mineral reserve bases,” said Mr Pascall.

“Our success in overcoming the various challenges the year presented was directly attributable to the dedication and resilience of our workforce and their adaptability to the new way of working.”

He added that First Quantum’s net debt decreased by US$266 million in 2020 with US$136 million of that reduction coming in quarter four.

On the cashflow front, the company recorded US$1.6 billion from operating activities – a US$724 million increase from 2019 – with US$533 million of cash flows from operating activities generated in the fourth quarter.

Mr Pascall explained that the mining firm’s focus in 2021 would remain on debt reduction to enable it to plan for returns to shareholders and growth.

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