Australian iron ore port to reopen, cyclone threat passes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2013, 1:46pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2013, 1:48pm

The Australian port of Dampier, which handles close to a fifth of the world’s seabourne iron ore trade for resources giant Rio Tinto , will reopen on Saturday after a two-day closure due to a cyclone off the northwest Australian coast.

“The cyclone danger has passed and we will be resume ship loading later on Saturday morning,” a spokeswoman for the port told Reuters, adding the port had suffered no damage despite being hit by high seas as the storm passed some 400 kilometers out to seas.

A second smaller port, Cape Lambert, which was also closed due to the cyclone and is used by Rio Tinto was also expected to resume operations.

International prices paid for iron ore, which is needed to make steel, have been climbing ahead of the start of the Australian cyclone season, which typically runs from November to April, in part over concerns shipments could face delays.

Narelle is the first cyclone of the last year-13 season.

Most the iron ore is contracted by Chinese steel mills, with Japanese and South Korean mills also big buyers.

Rio Tinto, the world’s second-largest iron ore producer, suspended ship loading at Dampier and Cape Lambert on Thursday as category four Cyclone Narelle intensified.

Together, the ports handle close to 200 million tonnes of Rio Tinto’s iron ore exports annually, representing some 23 per cent of the global trade in the steelmaking ingredient.

Australian oil producers Woodside Petroleum, Apache Corp and BHP Billiton were forced to disconnect oil production vessels from offshore fields before the storm passed.

Cyclone Narelle is expected to maintain its category 4 strength, one short of the maximum category five, with 250 kmph (155 mph) winds, for another seven hours as it continues to move south away from the Australian coast and the Pilbara iron ore mining and shipping belt.

Almost all of Australia’s iron ore is mined in the nation’s far west, a sparsely-populated expanse four times the size of Texas and serviced by only a handful of ports.

The cyclone is expected to drop to a category 2 storm by early Sunday morning, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.