November 16, 2016 / 5:37 AM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-BHP to keep iron ore mines running despite Rio's Christmas suspension

* Rio to shut Hope Downs 4 mine for 2 weeks over Christmas

* 1st time for Rio to interrupt work since 2008 global crisis (Adds Fortescue CEO comment)

SYDNEY, Nov 16 (Reuters) - BHP Billiton will run its iron ore mines full speed through the year-end amid a surge in global prices for the commodity rather than suspending some Australia operations like rival Rio Tinto , the company said on Wednesday.

“It is business as usual for us,” a BHP spokeswoman said.

About 440 workers and contractors at Rio Tinto’s Hope Downs 4 mine in Western Australia were told by management that there would be a two-week shutdown over Christmas, with staff directed to take leave, Rio Tinto confirmed on Wednesday.

Rio Tinto is Australia’s biggest iron ore miner, followed by BHP, then Fortescue Metals Group.

Fortescue will also keep its operations running through Christmas, Chief Executive Nev Power said.

“We have no plans to shut down our operations over the Christmas period and will continue to focus on our key priorities of safety, production and managing our costs through productivity and efficiency improvements,” Power said.

Iron ore futures in China this week climbed to their highest in nearly three years, supported by stronger prices of steel.

Rio Tinto and BHP produce a range of mineral commodities but derive their highest revenue from iron ore. Fortescue’s sole business is iron ore mining.

Rio Tinto’s interruption will mark the first time it has suspended mining since 2008 during the global financial crisis when iron ore prices tanked.

A Rio Tinto spokesman said the Hope Downs 4 mine was on track to meet its 2016 production target despite the furlough. (Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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