Controversial billionaire Frank Timis' African Minerals suffered a setback this week, after chief executive Alan Watling announced his retirement after only three years running the company.
African Minerals' London-listed shares took a dive on the news, shedding more than 6 per cent to three-month lows amid uncertainty about the company's ambitious plans to build a major iron ore mine in Sierra Leone.
A rail construction specialist, Mr Watling was one of a number of former Fortescue Metals Group executives who joined African Minerals in 2009, as the company began serious work on infrastructure development at the Tonkolili project. He gave no reason for his departure, saying only that, with the first phase of mine and infrastructure development now nearly complete, and African Minerals shipping its first iron ore last December, it was an appropriate time to pass the torch to a new boss. Mr Timis has taken on the chief executive's role until the company finds a permanent replacement.
A team from Canadian engineering firm SNC Lavalin has been brought in to oversee the development of the rest of the project's 20-million-tonne-a-year first phase.
It has been a tough month for African Minerals, which began April on a high after finally closing a $US1.5 billion ($1.46 billion) investment from China's Shandong Iron & Steel. Only weeks later, it cut its 2012 production forecast by a third, to 10 million tonnes of iron ore shipped, because of delays in heavy equipment shipments from China.
It was in the news again last month after a pay dispute with as many as 500 local workers escalated to riots. A heavy-handed response by local authorities led to the death of one woman from police gun fire, with another nine striking workers reportedly hospitalised.