The pit will produce 90 million tonnes of phosphate ore, following the removal of 94 million tonnes of other materials. The eight-year contract is worth $200m.

The ore will be transported to the Ras al-Zour fertilizer complex, which is part of Maaden’s massive mineral industrial complex 1,400 kilometres away on Saudi Arabia’s east coast. The Ras al-Zour facility includes a $3.7bn aluminium smelter, a $1bn alumina refinery, a 1,800-2,400MW power plant and a port (MEED 2:11:07).

The three consortium members now hope to source and secure more lucrative mining opportunities in the kingdom, where the government is actively promoting the expansion of the sector. Riyadh aims to make mining the third pillar of the Saudi economy, alongside hydrocarbons and petrochemicals.

Saudi Arabia sits on some of the largest phosphate reserves in the world and further exploration of its mountainous regions is expected to lead to the discovery of deposits of gold, silver, lead, zinc, uranium, iron ore, copper and tungsten.

Maaden has been given the task of developing Saudi Arabia’s non-petroleum mineral resources to help diversify the kingdom’s economy away from its reliance on revenue from hydrocarbons and petrochemicals. A revised mining investment law passed in September 2004 is designed to attract more foreign funds to the sector.

It is also developing bauxite and kaolin mines at Al-Zabirah, through a joint venture with local company Saudi Canadian Mining Services. The Al-Zabirah mines are believed to hold reserves of about 126 million tonnes of bauxite ore. The project is valued at almost $107m (MEED 14:09:07).

Progress on building the rail connection to the mineral deposits at Al-Jalamid and elsewhere in the kingdom has been hit by delays.

A recent confidential report from the Public Investment Fund, which is overseeing the project, has criticised the slow progress being made on two of the three construction packages on the North-South minerals railway (MEED 16:11:07). This includes the 782-kilometre section from Al-Nafud to the Al-Jalamid mine and Al-Qurayyat, where PIF says “steps need to be taken” to address the “poor performance”.