Pilbara Ports Authority: Record throughput

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 22 Dec 2016   Posted by admin

The mouth of the inner harbour at the Port of Port Hedland.

By Cameron Drummond

THE Pilbara Ports Authority has achieved record throughput across its operations for the second time in as many years, as it looks to begin the replacement and upgrade of vital port infrastructure in the current financial year.

Pilbara Ports Authority, the world’s largest bulk export port authority, is set to undertake substantial enhancements to its port operations at the ports of Dampier and Port Hedland, which are located along the coast of the mineral-dense Pilbara region of Western Australia. These upgrades are set to enhance efficiency, increase safety and capacity and allow for more product to be exported.

The PPA is responsible for about 70 per cent of Australia’s iron ore exports and 50 per cent of the world’s seaborne iron ore exports, as well as roughly 8 per cent of the world’s LNG exports.

China and Japan remain the PPA’s largest commodity export markets, having shipped 82 per cent of iron ore to China and 75 per cent of LNG to Japan in the 2016 financial year. Total trade for FY16 was a record 633.5mt, up 2.16 per cent from 619.8mt in FY15, with iron ore accounting for 94.1 per cent of exports. Iron ore also accounted for 93 per cent of the tonnage shipped through terminals at PPA, with LNG/LPG (4 per cent), Salt (1 per cent) and other commodities making up the remaining 2 per cent.

Record breaking

The 2016 financial year saw throughput at PPA ports break multiple records, returning the WA Government a $100.5m dividend.

In FY16, PPA posted a record throughput of 633.5 million tonnes across all ports, with Port Hedland accounting for the bulk of that figure with its own record throughput of 460.4mtpa.

It hit an all-time monthly throughput record in August of 42.9mt, as well as a new 24 hour record during the month of June, when it shipped 2,174,533t on 12 vessels (up from the previous record of 2,065,269t on 11 vessels in FY15).

Australian iron ore exports from Port Hedland remained solid in October, with a total of 41.6mt of ore shipped, 14 per cent higher than the corresponding period last year.

In cumulative terms, iron ore exports soared to 469mt over the past year; the largest total on record and close to 6 per cent up on the levels shipped in the year to October 2015.

In terms of value, the two major commodities through PPA ports totalled $17.8 billion and $49.8 billion for oil and gas and iron ore, respectively.

Iron ore produced by Fortescue Metals, BHP Billiton and Gina Rinehart’s majority-owned Roy Hill mine is shipped out of the Port of Port Hedland, the world’s largest bulk export port.

Three significant projects are underway at the port, which has experienced an average annual growth rate of 15 per cent over the past five years; – the construction of a new integrated marine operations centre, the Channel Risk Optimisation Project (CROP) and the replacement of channel markers.

PPA chief executive officer Roger Johnston said the authority has only seen growth out of Port Hedland year-on-year since he arrived five years ago, when throughput for the 2012 financial year was 246.6mt.

“We have seen continued growth out of Port Hedland, and for FY17 we will be doing somewhere north of 500mt throughput,” Mr Johnston said.

Mr Johnston said that all the projects were necessary upgrades and had been very well received by industry.

“These three key strategic projects will set the port up to be able to manage expected volumes for the next 25 years,” Mr Johnston said.


Marine Centre

A new Integrated Marine Operations Centre (IMOC) will be constructed at Port Hedland to facilitate safe and efficient movement of vessels through the harbour.

It is one of three projects funded by the Port Improvement Rate, a temporary levy charged on vessels entering and exiting the harbour, which funds capital improvements necessary to sustain the long-term operation and development of the Port of Port Hedland.

Pindan Contracting was recently announced as the successful tender to design and construct the IMOC, with onsite works expected to begin in early 2017.

THE IMOC will be adjacent to the existing port administration building and replace the existing and outdated shipping control tower. The new facility will control the marine operations of the port, including vessel movements in the inner harbour, shipping channel and off shore anchorage.

It will also house Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) systems and equipment for the harbour master function, dredging management, port security, marine pilot briefing facilities and provide for improved incident control capability.

“The new tower will allow for us to have multiple desk operators in it and initially provides space for up to four people with room for growth,” Mr Johnston said.

“The second floor will also be set up as a separate incident control centre so as not to interrupt the day-to-day management of the port.”


After receiving State Government approval in May, the PPA is set to deliver a $120m Channel Risk and Optimisation Project (CROP), which would reduce the risk of an obstruction in the Port of Port Hedland shipping channel and allow users to further optimise tonnages on their vessels. The two-year project involves the creation of a new emergency passing lane, extension of a deep water refuge zone, and use of existing deeper depths along the tidally constrained 42km channel.

The aim is to optimise the use of the channel for the benefit of port users, with an extension to sailing windows, creating larger separations between departing vessels in a convoy, or potentially allowing an additional vessel to depart on the tidal window.

“The CROP will deepen the refuge zone so it can cater for the larger-sized vessels even during low tide,” Mr Johnston said.

“It will also create a passing lane so fast moving ships can overtake the slow vessels, again with sufficient depths, which will help drive efficiency.”

PPA said it would finalise planning and seek environmental approvals, with Expressions of Interest (EOI) expected to be invited from industry in 2017.

Dredging and associated industries were invited to an information briefing held on 25 August to learn more about the project requirements and timeframes for delivery.

A tender for Stage 1 of the dredging component of the project is expected to be advertised during the first half of 2017.

The CROP will be delivered concurrently with annual maintenance dredging at Port Hedland to achieve savings in dredging mobilisation and execution costs and is expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

Channel Marker Replacement

The PPA also plans to replace 35 offshore and three landside channel markers that are used by vessels as navigational aids. The replacements would guarantee the structural integrity and reliability of the markers for at least the next 25 years and ensure operations and vessel traffic were not interrupted.

“We are going to replace very old and ailing infrastructure to make sure we have consistent quality that will last for the next 25-50 years,” Mr Johnston said.

The initial phase of the project was completed in 2014 with the replacement of offshore channel marker topsides, with second phase works to include the replacement of offshore navigation aid piles and replacement of land based navigational aids.

Tenders for the channel marker replacements are anticipated to be advertised in early 2017.


West Pilbara ports

Located in the west Pilbara region, the Port of Dampier is the world’s second largest bulk export port with an average throughput of 175mt of cargo each year.

As with Port Hedland, Dampier ships mostly iron ore from Pilbara mines, making up 82.65 per cent of PPA exports in FY16. Its other two main commodities are LNG (12.5 per cent) and salt (2 per cent).

LNG arrives from offshore gas fields via subsea pipelines to Woodside Energy’s Withnell Bay terminal at Dampier, and then piped down to southern WA for domestic use or export, primarily to Japan. Salt is shipped through the port to overseas markets from Rio Tinto’s Dampier Salt operation.

West of Dampier and near the seaside town of Onslow is the Port of Ashburton, a multi-user port being built by Chevron to manage its LNG exports.

It was expected that second and third users may also utilise common use infrastructure that has the capacity to export up to 50mt of LNG, other hydrocarbons, heavy industry and general cargo; as well as contain supply base capability to service nearby offshore operations.

PPA has been managing the traffic out of Ashburton since July 2016, with the whole port expected to be handed over to the authority in mid-2017 when Chevron pumps first gas from its Wheatstone LNG project at Ashburton North.



There are three greenfields ports flagged for future development along the northern coast of the Pilbara. The Port of Cape Preston East, about 70km south west of Karratha, will be developed as a multi-user port to facilitate iron ore exports and other bulk minerals.

Iron ore miner BC Iron has flagged the development of the port for its Buckland iron ore project which would utilise the facility for throughput of up to 20mtpa.

Development applications are being progressed to construct and operate onshore and marine facilities for an initial term of 20 years.

30km east of Karratha is the proposed deep water multi-user Port of Anketell, planned as an iron ore export facility and industrial area with an ultimate throughput capacity of more than 350mtpa.

It would also have the provision for the export of other bulk commodities and import of fuel and general cargo.

100km east of Dampier is the proposed site of the Port of Balla Balla, which has been planned as another multi-user port for iron ore and other bulk material exports.

The facility would comprise of 71,400 hectares (ha) of port waters, a 19,700ha seabed and 5300ha for the port precinct.