March 16, 2012 / 10:44 AM / 6 years ago

Australian iron ore ports shut as cyclone threatens coast

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s main iron ore terminals, which are among the largest in the world, were closed on Friday as a cyclone in the Indian Ocean swept toward the Pilbara iron ore mining belt coast.

A train loaded with iron ore travels towards the Rio Tinto Parker Point iron ore facility in Dampier in the Pilbara region of Western Australia April 20, 2011. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

Global Miners Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) (RIO.L) and BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.L) both have major operations in the area.

Supply concerns because of the cyclone along with recent gains in Chinese steel prices helped spur iron ore prices to the highest in nearly four months on Friday.

Meteorologists predict Cyclone Lua, with winds nearing 200 km per hour (125 mph), will make landfall early on Saturday and could cause flooding in the sparsely populated region, where most people live close to the sea.

Residents are being warned to store up on emergency supplies, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said.

The last of the vessels moored at Port Hedland, used by BHP Billiton (BHP.AX)(BLT.L), Fortescue Metals Group (FMG.AX) and Atlas Iron (AGO.AX) set sail early on Friday and the port officially closed at 0000 GMT, according to a spokesman for the port, Steed Farrell.

In all, about 400 million tons of iron ore passes through the ports in a year.

Australian 63 percent grade Newman fines were quoted at $147-$149 a tonne versus $143-$145 last week, and 61.5 percent grade Pilbara fines were at $144-$146 against $140-$143 the previous week.

Operations at two ports used by Rio Tinto, Dampier and Cape Lambert, were winding down, while mining and its rail hauling line remained open, a spokesman for Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest iron ore producer, said.

BHP said it monitors all cyclone activity closely and was prepared to shut operations if necessary.

“If there is any material impact on our production, we will report it in our quarterly production report,” BHP said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

Lua is forecast to generate wind gusts of more than 170 kmph (105 mph) in coastal areas including the Dampier and Port Hedland iron ore export terminals used by Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) (RIO.L) and BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.L) respectively.


For a graphic detailing resource operations in the region of

the cyclone, please click on:


Chevron (CVX.N) said on Thursday it was evacuating non-essential personnel from Barrow Island, 70 km (44 miles) off the coast, where it operates oil production facilities and is building the Gorgon liquefied natural gas (LNG) project.

The company said it was also evacuating personnel related to its Wheatstone LNG project near the coastal town of Onslow.

On Wednesday, Woodside Petroleum (WPL.AX) and Apache Corp (APA.N) shut several of their oilfields as Lua approached. Santos (STO.AX) said it has stopped production at its Mutineer Exeter 8,000 barrels a day project.

The cyclone has stopped production of about a quarter of Australia’s daily oil production of about 390,000 barrels.

Woodside’s Vincent produces an average of 40,423 barrels per day (bpd) and Enfield 19,623 bpd, while the company’s North West Shelf fields produce around 16,503 bpd, according to the latest production report. Apache’s Stag oil field produces about 8,800 barrels a day.

Cyclones, which range from category one to five, regularly strike during Australia’s summer and often force offshore oil and gas platforms to suspend operations.

Reporting by James Regan, Narayanan Somasundaram and rebekah Kebede; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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