LIMA, Feb 7 (Reuters) - A port strike has slowed mineral exports from Peru's central Andes and prevented at least 19 ships from docking principally to load zinc and lead, officials
at the main port of Callao said on Monday.
Faced with uncertainty about whether stevedores would unload their cargoes, 15 ships that were slated to dock have passed by Callao altogether, said Wilmer Esteves of the dock workers' union, which is demanding better benefits.
Four others were waiting to dock in the world's No. 2 zinc producer, said Port President Mario Arbulo.
Peru has sent navy sailors to replace the stevedores. The sailors had unloaded iron from two other ships and were preparing to load zinc concentrates onto the vessels at Callao, said Jorge Chavez, a port manager.
The minerals terminal at Callao normally handles two ships a day and the slowdown is not expected to affect shipments of copper, most of which is exported in northern and southern Peru
at private ports owned by mining companies.
The bulk of Peru's zinc and lead is mined in its central Andes and Peru's mining chamber said 30 mines from the region, many of them small, use the Callao port. Important zinc miners such as Milpo (MIL.LM), Atacocha (ATB.LM) and Volcan (VOLa.LM) rely on the port.
The Andean country produced 1.47 million tonnes of zinc concentrate and 261,902 tonnes of lead concentrate last year, according to Peru's mining ministry.
Paolo Cabrejos, commercial head at Volcan, said the company sells its concentrates to trading firms and intermediaries. Those firms probably cannot be held liable if they fail to make shipments as their contracts include force majeur clauses that protect them in cases of labor disruptions, he said.
"What they have done is direct the product to local destinations. What was programmed to be shipped is now being delivered to local plants," such as Votorantim's Cajamarquilla refinery, he said.
He said he did not know whether the trading firms had access to zinc in other countries so they could meet demand in nations such as China.
Major traders such as Trafigura and Glencore buy or produce minerals in Peru. The firms could not immediately be reached for comment.
Peru is a leading global producer of gold, silver, copper, zinc, lead and tin. Its mining sector generates 60 percent of its exports. Dock workers said they had been pushing for better benefits
for two weeks before going on strike.
Tight supply has kept prices near record highs on the London Metal Exchange in recent months. Surging commodity prices have increased concern about inflation in Peru but so far have not led to increased strikes in its ports or mines.