30/04/2008 - 22:00

Port upgrade may not be enough

30/04/2008 - 22:00

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Iron ore miners in the Mid West region will have more room to move following the $49 million upgrade of Berth 5 at the Geraldton Port, but it may not be enough space in 18 months’ time.

Iron ore miners in the Mid West region will have more room to move following the $49 million upgrade of Berth 5 at the Geraldton Port, but it may not be enough space in 18 months’ time.

Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan this week officially opened the berth, which has a 10 million tonne per annum capacity, almost double that of the port’s 6.44mt in exports in fiscal 2007.

Originally iron ore was loaded onto ships using Berth 4, which also handled over one million tonnes of mineral sands, talc, copper, zinc and garnet last year. Iron ore exports from the 2007 financial year totalled 3.5mt.

“This new facility will give local iron ore producers confidence that they can continue to expand their operations until industry is ready to take the next step and invest in a major new deep water port at Oakajee, capable of handling larger vessels,” Ms MacTiernan said.

The completion could signal an end to delays and congestion which featured in the region’s iron ore miners March quarterlies, which said the commissioning phase of Berth 5 restricted rail haulage of ore and increased demurrage charges.

Mount Gibson Iron Ltd reported rail haulage to the port had dropped seven per cent over the quarter while Murchison Metals Ltd said congestion at the port had caused a 25 per cent decrease in sales volumes.

Geraldton Iron Ore Alliance deputy chairman Rob Jeffries said while the completion of Berth 5 was welcomed, it was only one piece to the supply line.

“It is still, though, one part of the process because we expect we could be pushing 12 million tonnes per annum within the next 18 months when potentially quite significant projects are going to come on-stream,” Mr Jeffries said.

Mr Jeffries added that another important part of infrastructure essential for the 12 million tonnes per annum capacity is the upgrade of the rail unloader. 

“There is probably three to four mining proposals developing over the next two years and that rail unloader will be a critical part of the infrastructure. It needs to be addressed in a timely way,” Mr Jeffries said.

Mount Gibson said it has scheduled iron ore shipments from its Extension Hill project to coincide with the upgrade of the rail unloader, scheduled to finish in the second quarter of 2009.

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