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Underground mining has started at the Savannah nickel project, ahead of schedule, after ASX-listed Panoramic Resources struck a four-year, A$280-million underground mining contract with contractor Barminco.

Panoramic had initially planned to start underground mining at Savannah in August, however, the company on Friday said that with the new equipment arriving on site earlier than plan, and the recruitment of both technical staff and underground operators having progressed seamlessly, underground operations have now started ahead of schedule.

Both development and production activities are currently under way, with additional equipment and staff coming into the operation as it ramps up.

“During the past two months we have built our owners team from less than 10 to more than 30, including the recruitment of senior mining engineering and geological roles which has been really heartening in a tight labour market across the sector,” said Panoramic MD and CEO Victor Rajasooriar.

“It has been fantastic to see both Panoramic and Barminco teams quickly establish a working culture that sets up the Savannah mine for success. The teams have been working tirelessly to mobilise, commission, induct and now operate in a safe and well-planned manner.”

Rajasooriar noted that the companies have now started building an ore stockpile on the project’s surface, with a targeted 100 000 t on the surface set prior to the start of the processing plant.

“The project is now building strong momentum towards concentrate production at a time where favourable commodity market dynamics from nickel and copper are being experienced.”

Ore processing is scheduled to start in November, with first concentrate shipment from Savannah targeted for December.