12/03/2008 - 22:00

Pressure mounts on port facilities

12/03/2008 - 22:00


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Most of Western Australia’s major shipping ports have undergone major expansion projects in recent years, as they endeavour to cope with rapidly growing demand for their services.

Most of Western Australia’s major shipping ports have undergone major expansion projects in recent years, as they endeavour to cope with rapidly growing demand for their services.

And the pace of growth shows no sign of slackening.

With existing ports at Fremantle, Geraldton and Port Hedland approaching their capacity, the state government has started planning more ambitious plans.

These include ‘outer harbour’ developments at Cockburn Sound and Port Hedland and the construction of a new port at Oakajee, north of Geraldton.

Port Hedland is Australia’s highest tonnage port with throughput expected to significantly exceed 200 million tonnes by 2010.

Its main user is BHP Billiton Iron Ore, which will be joined this year by new producer, Fortescue Metals Group, which is building its own wharf.

The proposed multi-user outer harbour is currently in the concept design phase and includes the construction of jetties off the northern shore of Finucane Island and a separate shipping channel.

Subject to approvals, construction of the outer harbour could commence within three years and defer the need for a completely new port in the Pilbara, potentially at Ronsard Island, for another 10 years.

Expected to be operational in the first half of 2009, a new public berth is also under way to free up access on existing public berths and provide access for emerging iron ore juniors.

Aspiring iron ore producers in the Pilbara include Atlas Iron and Aurox Resources.

A multi-user copper and zinc concentrate storage shed, which will be underwritten by CBH Resources, Moly Mines, Straits Resource and Prairie Downs, is projected to be complete by 2009.

The Pilbara’s other main port is located near Dampier, and services resources giants Rio Tinto Iron Ore and Woodside Petroleum.

Rio is in the midst of a major expansion of its Cape Lambert facilities.

Geraldton Port’s iron ore export capability is set to increase substantially with its recently completed Berth 5 projected expected to almost quadruple the tonnage of iron ore it currently exports.

The recently completed berth project is the second major upgrade at the Geraldton port in the past five years.

Although the government has to date invested more than $300 million in port, road and rail infrastructure to lift Geraldton’s capacity, delays caused by bottlenecks are an ongoing issue.

The debate surrounding the deep water Oakajee port and its associated rail lines continues as Midwest Corporation Ltd and Murchison Metals Ltd compete in a tender process following the release of a Request for Proposal document last month.

It is anticipated Oakajee will initially handle 45mt of iron ore exports annually.

Construction is due to start in late 2009 and operations by 2012.

At Fremantle, 10 per cent annual growth in container trade means the existing ‘inner harbour’ is expected to reach capacity by 2015.

Hence, planning is under way for the construction of an ‘outer harbour’ in Cockburn Sound.

Fremantle Ports has released two development concepts, which include an island wharf connected to the mainland by a bridge and a partially land-backed wharf with an island component.

Fremantle Ports chief executive Kerry Sanderson said ports needed to be looking well ahead to ensure they had the ability to continue to meet the needs of importers and exporters.

“Planning for future capability is a major priority, bearing in mind always that big infrastructure projects generally require a number of years for both the approval and construction phases,” Ms Sanderson said.

Awaiting the outcome of the government’s approvals process, private company James Point Pty Ltd, which is backed by BGC boss Len Buckeridge, has long-standing plans for general cargo and container wharves at Cockburn Sound.

James Point has been seeking to proceed with its project but has been unable to gain regulatory approvals from the state government, which wants to finalise its own plans first.

Other port upgrades include Bunbury port, which has been allocated $9 million for a new crane, minor upgrades and for investigations into harbour deepening.

Albany Port is currently seeking environmental approval and plans to put a request into the State Treasury for $90 million and will dredge Albany Port once Grange Resources can commit to underwriting the risk of its iron ore project.


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