(Corrects headline and first and third paragraphs to show shipments are not yet leaving from upgraded deep-water port)
BRAZZAVILLE, April 19 (Reuters) - Congo Republic shipped its first iron ore exports on Friday ahead of an expected boom in production from mines owned by Congolese billionaire Paul Obambi’s Sapro SA and Swiss commodities giant Glencore.
Sapro mined the oil-dependent Central African country’s first iron ore in 2017 from its Mayoko project in the southwest and plans to reach output of 12 million tonnes per year by 2022.
Glencore’s joint venture with British Virgin Islands-incorporated Zanaga Iron Ore Co plans to ship 2 million tonnes of iron ore per year over the next two years, and 30 million tonnes by 2024.
Sapro, the Congolese government and British shipping company Ashley Global are also spending a combined $550 million on rehabilitation to Pointe Noire’s deep-water port, the Mayoko mine and an old railway track connecting the two.
At a ceremony on Friday in Pointe Noire attended by the mines minister, a ship loaded with 23,000 tonnes of ore set sail for China, where it will be processed for a European buyer.
“We are heading towards more than a century of production,” said Obambi.
Iron ore prices are near their highest in two years, spurred by growing demand from China and the collapse in January of a dam operated by Brazil’s Vale, which has cut into global output.
Congo’s economy has been hit hard in recent years by low crude prices, which led its debt to balloon. It is currently negotiating with the International Monetary Fund to try to secure a bailout. (Reporting by Christian Elion and Roch Bouka Writing by Sofia Christensen Editing by Aaron Ross and David Evans)