By Rachel Seeley
2015 was a year of change for North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, as it responded to tough trading conditions faced by customers by becoming more cost competitive.
Ready access to transport corridors and shipping channels, as well as its close proximity to the state’s mining, industrial and agricultural sectors and Asia’s growing markets, means that North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation’s (NQBP) is ideally positioned for sustainable growth.
Already accounting for more than half of the state’s tonnage and with a total asset base of $626 million, NQBP’s seaport facilities handle a range of bulk cargoes including coal, bauxite, sugar, molasses, grain, petroleum, fertiliser and general cargo.
NQBP is one of Australia’s largest port authorities, responsible for the ports of Weipa, Abbot Point, Hay Point and Mackay.
It was formed in July 2009 under the Transport Infrastructure Act 1994, as a result of the 2008 Queensland Government Review of the Queensland Port Network Structure.
NQBP chairman Peter Milton said the board had made good progress on the internal transformation of NQBP to ensure it had the capable, skilled and focused workforce, systems and processes to support the trade into the future.
2015 in review
In the 2015 financial year, total trade and shipping through NQBP’s ports grew by 8.3 per cent and 4.7 per cent, respectively, compared to the previous year.
“This growth was achieved against a backdrop of falling commodity prices and changing economic conditions, and is a credit to our customers’ commitment to maintaining the viability and growth of their businesses,” Mr Milton said.
“Coal and bauxite were significant contributors to trade growth with a 9.5 per cent and 4.4 per cent increase respectively.”
With coal representing 84 per cent of the corporation’s trade activity, Mr Milton said a particular focus of 2015 had been keeping abreast of commodity price movements.
“We are optimistic about future demand for Queensland minerals and produce, with an expectation of growth rates of 2 to 3 per cent across the spectrum of traded products in 2015-2016,” he said.
NQBP’s total revenue for fiscal 2015 increased by 2.1 per cent to $102.9 million, with operating revenue up by 13.6 per cent to $95.9 million.
It recorded a $7.4 million net loss after tax for the year, which Mr Milton said was largely the result of a decision to write off its investment in coal expansion projects impacted by the prolonged market downturn, and the impact of the revaluation of its assets in accordance with Australian accounting standards.
The corporation’s underlying profit (before adjustments) was $20.4 million – a 2.5 per cent decline on the previous year, which Mr Milton called a “solid result given the tough trading year”.
The Port of Weipa on the northwest coast of Cape York Peninsula has major onshore bauxite handling, processing and stockpiling facilities. Its conveyors run to the Lorim Point Wharf for ship loading.
Its major customer is Rio Tinto Alcan, which ships bauxite both internationally and to the Queensland Alumina and Rio Tinto Aluminium Yarwun refineries in Gladstone.
Rio Tinto Alcan Weipa manages and operates the infrastructure dedicated to the out-loading of bauxite for both domestic and export markets.
During the year Rio Tinto worked to improve shipping and scheduling activities and contributed to increased throughput.
Each year more than 30mt of product – including bauxite, fuels and general cargo – passes through the port.
In fiscal 2015, it achieved 31.8mt throughput (compared to 30.51mt the previous year). This comprised 31.7mt of bauxite, 75,735t of fuel and 47,079t of general cargo.
NQBP stated that an ongoing focus on cost management and value delivery remained a key theme at Weipa.
However, it expected export volumes to decrease during the next five years due to the finite life of high quality ore at Embley River.
“A proposed new, private Rio Tinto Alcan port, to be located around 40 kilometres to the south, will take up the lost volume pending the construction of the South of Embley Project,” NQBP stated.
Yet there was continued pressure to investigate opportunities to expand port and supply chain infrastructure in northern Australia as Asian demand for food from Australia’s clean green food table increased.
“NQBP will continue to work with potential port users to investigate the future demand for commodities from cattle producers, agriculture and the minerals sector to ultimately broaden the Gulf country’s capacity to export to Australia’s northern neighbours,” NQBP stated
“Building road and rail infrastructure to connect with the Port is a challenge on Cape York Peninsula, with the high cost of river crossings.
“As the state continues to upgrade roads, more opportunities will become available to adopt port operations to resume and expand live cattle exports and to explore innovative shipping methods such as transhipping and barge operations.”
Australia’s most northern coal export port, The Port of Abbot Point, has huge potential due to its location in naturally deep water, 25km north of Bowen near the Galilee and Bowen coal basins. It has a nominal capacity of 50mtpa.
Abbot Point recorded 28.7mt annual throughput for 2014-2015 compared to 22.8mt annual throughput in 2013-2014.
It celebrated 30 years of operation during 2014-2015 and terminal operator Abbot Point BulkCoal also marked a major production milestone after exporting 300mt of coal from the port.
The Port incorporates the Adani Abbot Point Terminal, which was acquired by Adani from the Queensland Government by way of a long term lease in 2011.
According to NQBP, Abbot Point is earmarked as a port with significant potential to become not only one of Queensland’s, but also one of Australia’s most valuable, intergenerational multi-commodity trading ports.
“During the course of 2014-2015, NQBP worked with proponents GVK Hancock and Adani to progress their respective projects,” the corporation stated.
“The vision for Abbot Point is that it continues to grow as a key strategic coal port and, over time, leverages benefits from the adjoining State Development Area to become a hub for import, processing, manufacturing and export activities of other industries of regional, state and national significance.
“Future growth plans include the incremental development of additional terminals to provide long-term secure access to export capacity and service credible demand as it emerges, including from the Galilee coal basin.”
Since obtaining a 99-year lease of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal, Adani has identified the need to increase terminal capacity.
Adani obtained approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 for the T0 Terminal, which would provide an ultimate capacity expansion of 70mtpa and support the development of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine.
The Department of State Development is completing the Abbot Point Growth Gateway Project which covers the dredging approvals for the T0 terminal. Up to 1.1 million cubic metres is required to be dredged to allow for capesize vessels to service the terminal.
Adani is working to finalise all approvals in relation to the port, rail and mine projects.
The Port of Hay Point, 40km south of Mackay, is Queensland’s largest port by volume and one of four designated Priority Ports in Queensland.
The Port comprises two separate coal terminals – Hay Point Coal Terminal (HPCT) and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal (DBCT) – that service mines in the Bowen Basin.
The terminals are linked to the mines by an integrated rail-port network.
During 2014-2015 the Port of Hay Point achieved annual throughput of 114.9mt compared to 108.3mt in 2013-2014.
Both terminal operators achieved record throughput during the financial year – DBCT with 71.5mt and HPCT with 43.4mt.
NQBP is directly involved in supporting terminal operations through provision of pilotage services, coordination and management of dredging requirements, maintenance of the tug harbour, and water and waste management.
It also provides support services for the management and maintenance of common access areas and other shared services including buffer land and dust monitoring.
Through a focus on buffer lands and the Louisa Creek area, including maintenance, acquisition and management of properties, the operating costs at Hay Point were reduced by $1 million in fiscal 2015.
During the December 2015 quarter, Hay Point Services began commissioning of the HPX3 Expansion Project, which increased HPCT’s capacity from 44mtpa to 55mtpa.
“The outlook for the Port of Hay Point is directly connected to the demand, price and production cost of metallurgical coal in the Bowen Basin,” NQBP stated.
“NQBP remains ready to support terminal operators and terminal owners in meeting future export demand.”
In the short-to-medium term NQBP stated it would focus on continuing development and focus on client engagement; working with terminal owners and operators on planning and expansion projects; optimising pilotage outcomes; providing sustainable channel maintenance outcomes; and providing smarter, leaner, value for money solutions with a focus on the customer.
The Port of Mackay, comprising four berths within a harbour sheltered by breakwaters, trades grain, fuel, sugar and sugar products. Land areas behind the Port accommodate more than 100 industrial and commercial businesses with substantial areas of vacant land suitable for further development.
It is ideally positioned as a supply chain partner to coal projects in the Bowen and Galilee basins.
The port achieved 2.89mt of annual throughput in 2014-2015, compared to 3.07mt in 2013-2014.
“The Port of Mackay has benefited from significant private sector investment in recent years of around $200 million, as well as material investment by NQBP to address a number of legacy infrastructure and tenure issues,” NQBP stated.
“This has increased the Port’s performance and provided flexibility and capability to attract increased trade in the future.
“With increasing coal production from the northern Bowen Basin and potentially new coal mines in the Galilee Basin, the Port of Mackay is positioned to not only service the needs of this expanded coal production, but to also service the needs of the existing coal production.
“This is a result of the Port of Mackay’s proximity to these regional coal mining locations, between the major coal ports of Hay Point and Abbot Point.”
During fiscal 2015, NQBP paid significant attention to reviewing the organisation, the purpose of Queensland ports, community expectations and opportunities to deliver value to stakeholders.
Mr Milton said this saw NQBP realise a new vision statement which set it on a path to being truly sustainable and generating prosperity for current and future generations.
“To support that vision, the Board has set four pillars of action: facilitate trade, regional development, port sustainability and become smarter in how we create and implement opportunities,” he said.
“It is a very exciting and challenging prospect to deliver this over our 5 to 10-year planning horizon.”