coal-mine(Reuters) – Coal exporters in Colombia will be able to continue loading by crane for an unspecified period after Jan. 1 when a new law takes effect abolishing this method, avoiding interruption to exports, Environment Minister Luz Helena Sarmiento said on Friday.

Coal exporters who continue loading by crane because enclosed conveyor belt loaders – which will be mandatory from January – are not ready, will pay a fine which the government has not specified. The decision eases concerns that some miners would be forced to suspend exports from the New Year.

U.S.-based Drummond, Colombia’s No. 2 coal producer which mines about a third of national output, is said to be two to three months behind with building its conveyor belt system at its port in Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast.

Colombian Natural Resources, a smaller producer owned by Goldman Sachs, will also not be ready on time.

Sarmiento was reported by Caracol Radio as saying the fines would increase as time went on but she said the government’s intention was to avoid disruption to exports.

“We are conscious that at no time exports can be stopped, that there are royalties (earned) through these companies, but also that it’s necessary to preserve and adhere to environmental norms,” Sarmiento said.

Colombia is the world’s No. 4 coal exporter, most of which is shipped to European consumers who burn it to produce electricity.

Physical coal prices in Europe are falling as a result of Colombia’s announcement. Prices for January delivery into Europe’s main terminals at Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp (ARA) have already fallen by about $1.50 a tonne to $85.00 a tonne on Friday versus the previous trading session.

Prices could see further sharp falls later in the current trading session, coal traders said.