Cyclone threat resurfaces off Australia's northeast coast

SYDNEY, March 5 Mon Mar 4, 2013 8:03pm EST

SYDNEY, March 5 (Reuters) - Australia could face its seventh tropical cyclone since January as a low pressure system intensifies in the Coral Sea off the northeast coast, the weather bureau said on Tuesday, although there was no immediate threat to major collieries in the area.

At this stage, the storm is expected to remain far out to sea until at least early next week and pose little threat to communities along Australia's Queensland state coastline.

A tropical storm in Queensland in January briefly reached cyclone strength and forced MMG Ltd to temporarily halt shipments of zinc concentrate from its Century mine in the state's north, the second-largest zinc mine in the world.

It also brought heavy rains to the state's collieries further south, which produce about half of the world's coking coal, flooding rail haulage lines and shutting mines and ports.

BHP Billiton, Anglo American, Xstrata and Peabody Energy are among a number of mining companies operating collieries in Queensland.

Australia on average is hit with 11 tropical cyclones between November and April each season.

In February, Cyclone Rusty tore through the northwestern Pilbara iron belt, closing Indian Ocean shipping ports handling half the world's sea-borne iron ore trade and dumping up to 600 mm, or 2 feet, of rain.

There was a "higher chance" that the low pressure system over the Coral Sea will intensify to cyclone strength by Friday, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, but it should be located well offshore from north Queensland.

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