RENOWNED as the largest iron ore and bulk minerals export facility in the world, Port Hedland is also the largest bulk port in Australia. The port provides vital infrastructure services to WA’s
mineral-rich Eastern Pilbara region and its major export commodity is iron ore. Port Hedland Port Authority (PHPA) is a statutory authority owned by the WA Government, and its primary purpose is to facilitate trade through the port. One of the Authority’s major functions is to control all shipping through Port Hedland and maximise the loaded capacity of the ships the port services using world-leading technology that maintains safe under-keel clearance distances. The PHPA is also responsible for the planning and management of new developments at the port.
Not only is Port Hedland Australia’s largest port based on total annual tonnes throughput, but in 2004-2005 it was also the first port in Australia to exceed the 100 million tonnes per annum throughput milestone. In 2010-2011, PHPA finished marginally below the 200mtpa milestone and, according to PHPA chief executive officer Roger Johnston, the port was expected to handle about 240mt of product in the current financial year. Mr Johnston said that about 99 per cent of the material handled by the port was for export. “About 1.5 million tonnes is import:
things like fuel, ammonium nitrate and cement, usually from Asia,” he said. “It’s imported cargo; supportive of the mining industry more than anything else. “Fuel imports have a direct impact on iron ore: as [the] volume of iron ore goes up so does fuel, because mines and generators operate on fuel. So, the more they produce, the more they consume.” Expansion and growth At present, Port Hedland is the thirteenth largest port in the world, but Mr Johnston said the materials handled by the port directly contributed to the size of larger international ports. “The biggest ones, like the Chinese ports…are receiving ports,” he said. “They are bigger as port handlers because of the product that we ship.” This year is set to be a momentous one for PHPA as it works toward bringing three additional berths into operation alongside its nine existing berths. Two of the new berths are BHP Billiton’s and the third is Fortescue Metals Group’s. Mr Johnston said that the three berths were expected to be operational by July 1. “Effectively, the port’s capacity is growing by almost 30 per cent by July 1. It’s growing very, very fast indeed,” he said.
“The three additional berths are being commissioned as we speak.” The three new berths will provide a significant increase in the port’s throughput capacity and the 240mtpa target for the current financial year does not include material set to be handled through the new berths.
“Add three on top of nine and you can see this massive growth being brought on stream,” Mr Johnston said. “We conservatively project that we will probably touch base on 300 million tonnes in the 2012-2013 year. “Bringing on those extra three berths, it will take us very quickly close to 300 million tonnes or thereabouts.” To date, PHPA’s existing berths total 4.9km, while its proposed new berths will add an additional 4.2km. Each berth is designed to service cape-size vessels that are 300m long and each have a loading
capacity of 240,000t.
“Another three berths will come on stream in the next 18 to 24 months – different ones from the three commencing on July 1,” Mr Johnston said. “The berthing will go from nine, to 12, to 15, so it’s a pretty dramatic growth period.” Outer Harbour In April 2011, BHP announced plans to expand its Pilbara iron ore operations to 480mtpa through a staged development of PHPA’s Outer Harbour, at a total cost of about $48 billion. BHP was forced to consider building the project after it failed to gain access to Rio Tinto’s more-easily expanded Pilbara ports through an attempted takeover of Rio in 2007 and a later plan to merge the iron ore businesses of the companies, which also fell apart. When the plan was announced, BHP reported that it would develop the Outer Harbour in four stages, subject to market conditions and other factors beyond its control, expanding its Port Hedland shipping capacity by 240mtpa through eight new shipping