CHINA AND THE MINERAL SANDS OF SRI LANKA.
Posted on November 22nd, 2016

KAMALIKA  PIERIS

The East coast of Sri Lanka is known to be rich in mineral sands. Pulmoddai has a very high concentration of heavy minerals and is considered one of the best beach mineral sand deposits in the world. Pulmoddai is located about 60 kilometers north of Trincomalee, midway between Mullaitivu and Trincomalee. The beach sand deposit in Pulmoddai is   about 10 kms in length with an average width of 100 meters.  If not collected the deposit gets washed off into the sea with the monsoon but gets replenished every year.

An off shore survey along Pulmoddai, from the mean high water mark, covering the entire length of the deposit, was completed in 1980.  This showed a reserve of 903,000 metric tons of ilmenite, 9500 metric tons of rutile and 39,000 metric tons of zircon.  In 1986, it was estimated to contain over 6 million tons of ‘heavy sands’ composed of 70-72 % ilmenite, 8-10% zircon, 8% rutile, 0.3% monazite and 1% sillimanite.  National Atlas of Sri Lanka  ( 2 ed. 2007) said it has a proven reserve of around 8000,000 to 10,000,000 tonnes of ilmenite, 9,000,000 tons of rutile and 7,000,000 tons of zircon. Experts say that around 12.5 million tons of unexplored mineral sands are still available in this area (2014).

In 1980 three other very promising deposits were found along the coastal stretch from Mullaitivu to Nilaveli at Nayaru, Poduwakattumalai and Thevikallu.  These showed a reserve of 2-4 million tons of Ilmenite, 475.000- 700,000 tons of rutile, 350,000-500,000 tons of zircon.  A minor deposit of allanite was found in Owella Estate, Matale containing 15% to 20% rare earth elements. There is also sufficient concentration of mineral sands at Kaikawala near Induruwa for economic exploitation.  (Daily News CCI Bulletin. 28.7.16 p 34)

The Pulmoddai mineral sands are greatly sought after   because of their very high purity. There is 53% of titanium dioxide in the Ilmenite sands and 95% titanium dioxide in the rutile sands. Pulmoddai  is one of the world’s best known sources for titanium. Titanium is regarded as the metal of the future.  Monazite was originally discovered in Sri Lanka  in 1914 . Sri Lanka, it appears,   is among the nine countries with monazite deposits and its deposit is  considered  second only to that of China .  Monazite is a byproduct recovered during the purification process of ilmenite, rutile and zircon.  It is mined for its rare earth and thorium content. About 300 tons of monazite could be recovered from the 140,000 tons of raw beach sands mined to recover ilmenite. (Daily News CCI Bulletin. 28.7.16 p 34) These mineral sands have wide industrial applications.

Ceylon Mineral Sands Corporation ( est. 1957) has two plants one in Pulmoddai for the recovery of ilmenite and the other in China Bay in Trincomalee to recover rutile and zircon. They are exported in raw form. Critics observe that while the global industry using rare earth minerals considers Sri Lanka to be a possible supplier of rare earths,  the LMSL website does not even speak of the presence of rare earths in the country at all. It seems to be unaware of the world’s demand for their products. (Daily News CCI Bulletin. 28.7.16 p 34).

The LTTE were aware of the importance of these minerals sands, and they took care not to damage the plant but they cut off the water supply required to process the mineral sand and  they disrupted the bulk shipments. Both China and the US are interested in our mineral sands. It is rumored that the USA had instructed Sarath Fonseka to give access to the   Pulmoddai sands to USA exclusively if he was successful in the      2010 Presidential election.  (Daily News 28.1.10 p  7) .

China has been the number one global buyer of Lankan mineral sands in the last few years . It  ranks first among the 8 countries that purchase our minerals. China purchased mineral sands worth USD 6.3 million during 2010-2014 . The President of Beijing’s SSG International Holding Group, the biggest mineral exploring firm in China ,  visited Sri Lanka  in May 2016  and said ‘We are looking for outright purchase of any mineral sand and graphite producing firms of Government of Sri Lanka  and looking to fully own them if possible.  We think  that Sri Lanka has rare earth elements deposits but can do better. We think Sri Lanka is not getting the best price for them in international markets and we can help the sector earn more in their export.’  CCI Bulletin says ‘The Chinese interest in our rare earths shows that  the potential and value of our mineral sands is far higher than we have assumed. The increasing usage of rare earths in multiple high tech industrial usages would increase the demand and value especially with the limited availability of raw materials.’

5 Responses to “CHINA AND THE MINERAL SANDS OF SRI LANKA.”

  1. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    Kamalika !!

    I was a regular visitor to Mineral Sands Corporation long years back, when my Brother-in-Law, late STEVE was Chief Engineer, and Manager. I remember visiting one of the Japanese ships that had come to collect Ilmenite. The Japanese Captain was a Six Footer. During the day, you cannot walk bare foot on the beach, it is like walking on heated steel. Kallaru, the largest Lagoon I believe is in the vicinity. In the evening at dusk, you could see over 500 Chulu lights, people catching Prawn, which is sold immediately to Buyers walking on the Beach with cash. The sand containing Titanium, is used for Rocket manufacture.

    Padaviya is an adjoining village where, LTTE massacred the villagers at the early hours of the morning.

  2. S.Gonsal Says:

    Susantha,
    Everywhere LTTE killed innocent Sinhala people or killed army personalle we should build monuments with the whle story with huge pictures for visitors to see. Should create tourist information centres at these places. We do have one at Arantalawa but need many more.
    By giving back North to Viggie before completing this MR completely destroyed this opportunity. If not for Gota ,by today MR has completely given back everything won by poor Sinhala brothers and sisters of our forces.

  3. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    S.G. Our bloody politician Rascals will try to put their face on it. I saw the Arantalawa Massacre pictures two days after it happened, when I was in Kandy. It was brought to me by Photographer Ariyawansa Jayaweera. One Samanera was seated on the ground and crying, with the BEHEADED HEAD of another Samanera on his Lap. The photo is indelible in my mind. They may have been ten year olds.

  4. Lorenzo Says:

    But like the LONE PLANE that fought back on 9/11, one young monk fought back. He pretended dead and survived the TAMIL TERRORIST attack. Then he left priesthood. Joined the army and killed scores of Tamil terrorists.

    One day in ELEPHANT PASS Tamil terrorists attacked the camp with a HOME MADE BULLDOZER. He climbed it and dropped a few BOMBS into is KILLING all 15 Tamil terrorists inside!!

    His name is HASALAKA GAMINI.

    We need more people like him.

    LTTE = ENDIA.

    But we cannot blame all politicians for TAMIL TERRORIST KILLINGS in the east. Sometimes we RETALIATED FANTASTICALLY.

    “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” – EXODUS 21:22

    Now GONSAL will come for a fight with me but truth prevails!

  5. S.Gonsal Says:

    No No, Thank you for pasting that. It sounds like exactly like Koran. Please keep it so that people some brain ( not the graduates of Maharagama Institute of Tomfoolery) who read Kalama Sutta will understand the right and wrong.

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