Deutsche Bank won't fund Australia coal port expansion near reef

MELBOURNE Fri May 23, 2014 1:03am EDT

MELBOURNE May 23 (Reuters) - Germany's largest bank, Deutsche Bank AG, has declared it will not finance a controversial coal port expansion in Australia near the Great Barrier Reef, responding to calls from green groups and tourism operators.

Deutsche Bank's stand marks a win for those opposed to $26 billion worth of coal projects that plan to use the Abbot Point port, already facing delays due to weak coal prices. But one company involved said the bank's position made no difference.

"This doesn't impact our proposed projects in any way," Indian firm GVK Hancock spokesman Josh Euler said.

Green groups and marine operators fighting to protect the World Heritage-listed reef took their campaign to Europe this week, urging Deutsche Bank, Societe Generale and HSBC not to back the Queensland coal projects.

They want to stop a government-approved expansion of Abbot Point that would involve dumping 3 million cubic metres of dredged soil about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the Great Barrier Reef, an issue that is also of concern for UNESCO's World Heritage committee.

Campaigners against the Abbot Point expansion failed to win support from Societe Generale on Tuesday, according to their web site, but were successful at Deutsche Bank's annual meeting on Thursday. HSBC's annual meeting is on Friday. (here)

The bank was one of three that helped refinance the lease on Abbot Point, but under a recently adopted guideline it would not back any activity near a World Heritage site unless there was agreement between UNESCO and the relevant country, it said on its web site. (www.db.com)

"We will not consider financial applications for an expansion of Abbot Point," Deutsche Bank Co-chairman Juergen Fitschen was quoted by media and Greenpeace as saying at the annual meeting.

Greenpeace said Australia's big four banks, which it is pressing to cut funding to the coal industry, should take note.

The operator of Abbot Point, North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp, defended the port plan saying there is "rigorous scientific evidence" to support an environmentally sustainable expansion of the port and criticised the anti-coal campaign.

"This is one of the strategies that these groups and individuals are employing, that is to increase investor risk through creating uncertainty and a heightened perception of risks over coal investments," NQBP spokeswoman Mary Steele said.

The port expansion would be needed to export coal from massive new mines planned by Indian firms Adani Enterprises and GVK, which is working with Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart. Adani had no immediate comment. (Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Richard Pullin)