Gold isn't the first thing that comes to mind for most people when they think about the South Pacific islands of Fiji, but its location in the Pacific Ring of Fire places it in an area noted for large gold mines, including Porgera and Lihir in Papua New Guinea, and Vatukoula in Fiji.
Lion One Metals Ltd. (LIO:TSX.V; LOMLF:OTCQX; LLO:ASX; LY1:FSE) is aiming to open Fiji's next gold mine at its 100%-owned Tuvatu project. According to Lion One, the company "envisions a low-cost high-grade underground gold mining operation at Tuvatu coupled with exciting exploration upside inside its tenements covering the entire Navilawa caldera, an underexplored yet highly prospective 7km diameter volcanic edifice of alkaline affinity." This geological structure is not unlike those seen at Porgera, Lihir and Vatukoula.
Since last June, Lion One has been conducting a near-surface infill drill program at Tuvatu, aimed at filling in the database gaps in an area earmarked for early production. So far, as part of this program, the company has drilling 6,735 meters in 35 holes, out of a planned total of 8,000 meters.
Assays of 10 of these holes were just released, and they returned some eye-popping grades, such as 359.8 grams per tonne (g/t) gold over 1.8 meters, including 1,616.0 g/t over 0.4 meters, and 295.5 g/t gold over 0.3 meters.
Needless to say, management likes the new assay results. Sergio Cattalani, Lion One’s senior vice president of exploration, comments, “Exceptionally high grade mineralization has been defined in the near-surface portion of the deposit. High grade mineralization is showing to be more consistent and appears to form wider zones with good continuity than what had been previously modelled.”
The company plans to start mining on a relatively small scale and expand from there. As Cattalani explains, “Our objective remains clear: to work toward a near-term modest production start, concomitant with an aggressive exploration program aimed at the continued expansion of bonanza-grade resources both near-surface and along defined feeder conduits at greater depths, for the eventual scaled-up development of a larger and more valuable resource.”
"I am increasingly confident that once underground mining is underway, the average head grade of the ore earmarked for early production will be higher than previously modelled," Cattalani states. “The additional data generated by the infill drilling and resampling programs currently underway are indicating that portions of the orebody return higher grades over multiples of minimum mining widths that were not defined by the current, yet now increasingly outdated, resource model.” The most recent preliminary economic assessment, released in September 2020, estimated 274,500 ounces of gold in the Indicated category and 384,000 ounces Inferred. Indicated resources are based on sufficient sampling that results in an estimate of the resource that can be used to evaluate economic viability and mine planning; Inferred resources are estimates based on more limited sampling and have a lower level of confidence than Indicated.
Lion One boasts an experienced management team. Chairman and CEO Walter Berukoff has owned or operated over 20 mines in seven countries and has a track record of building mining companies, including Northern Orion, Miramar Mining and La Mancha, creating more than $3 billion in shareholder value along the way. Other senior executives have decades of experience in exploration and mine building. Technical advisor Dr. Quinton Hennigh, a well-known name in exploration circles, also serves as chairman and president of Novo Resources Corp.
The company has the advantage of owning its own diamond drill rig and operating its own on-site lab in Fiji, allowing it to sidestep the delays experienced by many explorers. Core samples are sawn in half, and pulp duplicates of samples returning values greater than 0.5 g/t gold are sent to ALS Global Laboratories in Australia for third-party evaluation.
Lion One has approximately 156 million shares outstanding, 167 million fully diluted. Among its high-profile investors are Donald Smith Value Fund (12.09% ownership), Franklin Templeton Precious Metals Fund (9.58%) and CEO Water Berukoff (13%). Analyst Akin Akinwale of Eight Capital covers the company.
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