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MANILA, May 10 (Reuters) - Nickel ore output in the Philippines, the world's top supplier, fell 51 percent in the first quarter due to rains and the suspension of mine operations, government data showed on Wednesday.
Of the country's 28 nickel mines, 21 reported zero output during the period, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau said. Unprocessed nickel ore shipped in the January to March period totalled 1.71 million dry metric tonnes (DMT) compared with 3.46 million DMT a year ago, the data showed. Most of the Philippines' output is shipped to China where it is used to make stainless steel.
Most nickel mines are in the southern Philippines where monsoon rains and rough seas occur between October and March, making it difficult for miners to operate and load ships. Other mines are also under maintenance and care, the bureau said.
At least eight nickel mines have been suspended since last year for environmental breaches under a crackdown launched by former Environment Secretary Regina Lopez. She was ousted last week by a panel of lawmakers that confirm appointments.
President Rodrigo Duterte has named former military chief Roy Cimatu as Lopez's replacement, a move welcomed by miners but opposed by environmental groups who said Cimatu does not have a track record in environmental conservation.
Cimatu told Reuters on Tuesday it was possible to strike a balance between allowing mining and protecting natural resources, and he wanted time to assess the mine closures ordered by his predecessor.
In terms of other metals, the Philippines' gold output rose 5 percent to 6,167 kilograms, while copper concentrate production fell 22 percent at 72,194 DMT, the bureau said.
Editing by Manolo Serapio Jr. and Christian Schmollinger