Picture: 123RF/Stock
Picture: 123RF/Stock

Shares of Gemfields fell hard on the JSE after it told investors of an invasion of its exploration tenement in Ethiopia and the theft of emeralds from a safe, as well as the ransacking and looting of its site, with police powerless to help.

It is the second incident in the space of a month.

Gemfields, which operates emerald and ruby mines in Zambia and Mozambique, respectively, said there was an invasion of its exploration site in Ethiopia on Tuesday, with a safe kept inside a shipping container broken open and the gems inside stolen.

"Gemfields has also been advised that the site has seen a significant influx of firearm-bearing illegal miners and handlers," the company said.

Its shares fell in thin trade by 8% to R2.30, giving the company a market capitalisation of R3.3bn. Gemfields did not give a value of the gems taken from its 75%-owned Web Gemstone Mining, which is the company working in southern Ethiopia exploring for gems, including emeralds and sapphires.

Gemfields told the market that at the end of June a "mob" of up to 500 people had invaded its site, hurting two staff members and forcing an evacuation. In Tuesday’s incident, a group of people broke into the premises, looting equipment and instruments in the sorting house, ransacking the camp and stealing the emeralds.

"The police present on the site sought to resist these developments, but were overwhelmed and have since abandoned the site," Gemfields said in a statement. The company gave no information on what the underlying issues were or why it thought its site had been targeted.