East Africa-focussed gold producer, developer and explorer Shanta Gold announced on Tuesday that first stope ore had been produced from the New Luika Gold Mine underground operation.
The AIM-traded firm said underground ore was being sourced from a long-hole open stope between the 900 - 880 metre levels in the Bauhinia Creek orebody.
Establishment of further stopes would continue throughout 2017 to support the increasing production scheduled from the underground operations, the board explained.
Coincidentally, on 19 May, ore was intersected in the Luika orebody on the 937 metre level, ahead of schedule, with first production ore from Luika scheduled in Q4 2017, it added.
Overall, more than 3,000 metres of total underground development had been completed at NLGM, including the portal development from the 960 metre level, since 24 June 2016.
Additionally, a total of 37,000 tonnes of development ore at 7.70 grammes per tonne had been produced from Bauhinia Creek underground to date.
Development of the Bauhinia Creek orebody had been completed on the 915, 900 and 880 levels, was in progress on the 865 level and the main decline was now approaching the 845 level turn-out, the board reported.
The Bauhinia Creek main fan was commissioned in early May 2017, and the final ventilation raise bore shaft for the Luika orebody was on track for completion in the current quarter.
Shanta said the Cement Rock Fill plant construction was underway to commence operation this quarter as well, and two loaders had been equipped with tele-remote operation, with training completed.
The underground workforce now stood at 138.
"In September 2015, Shanta announced its Base Case Mine Plan with a commitment to commence underground production from Bauhinia Creek in Q2 2017 at the New Luika Gold Mine," said CEO Toby Bradbury.
"Every material milestone has been achieved in the delivery of this project which is a credit to the entire Shanta team."
Bradbury said the performance of the New Luika Gold Mine through the transition from an exclusively surface mining operation to a predominantly underground operation had been "well planned" and "well executed".
"Naturally there have been, and will continue to be challenges, but the resolve with which this achievement was accomplished reflects the way in which Shanta will continue to deliver in the future.
"After a strong Q1 2017, gold production in Q2 is running ahead of expectations with favourable grades being achieved from the Ilunga open pit, reaffirming the company's production guidance for 2017 of 80-85,000 oz."