Brazilian mining giant Vale has fully opened its $1.36bn iron ore pelletising plant and distribution centre at the Port of Sohar in the north of the sultanate.

The pelletising plant consists of two 4.5 million tonnes a year (t/y) units, the first of which went on stream in April 2011. The plant can now ramp up to its full 9 million-tonne capacity.

The Sohar distribution centre will be able to handle up to 40 milllion t/y of iron ore pellets, using the 1.4km deepwater terminal built in a joint venture between Vale and Sohar Industrial Port Company.

The terminal is one of the only ports in the world able to receive 400,000-tonne very large ore carriers (VLOC), which the mining company uses to import iron ore from Brazil, Vale said.

The company signed a deal last year with Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) to supply 34 million tonnes of pellets for steel production.

Vale is also exploring in Oman for mining opportunities, including the potential commercialisation of copper and phosphate resources. The sultanate currently mines copper, gold, silver, chromite and various industrial minerals.

Vale’s operations in Oman employ 1,250 people, of which 450 are direct employees of the company. About 60 per cent of these are Omani nationals.