* Cyclone misses key Australia iron ore ports
* Rio Tinto's Dampier, Cape Lambert to resume ship loading
* Port Hedland to restart by 0800 GMT
* Cyclone downgraded
By James Regan
SYDNEY, Feb 28 Major iron-ore export ports in
northwestern Australia, which account for half the world's
seaborne-traded iron ore, have reopened or are expected to
restart operations later on Thursday after a powerful cyclone
weakened after hitting land.
Port Hedland, used by BHP Billiton and
Fortescue Metals to ship more than 20 million tonnes of
iron ore a month, will reopen for inbound vessels by 0800 GMT,
according to a port official.
The port of Dampier, 200 kms (120 miles) south of Port
Hedland and the main Indian Ocean shipping terminal used by Rio
Tinto to export iron ore, reopened late on
Wednesday and has advised vessels to return to port anchorages.
Cape Lambert, a third smaller iron ore port near Dampier, is
also expected to reopen.
"It is expected that both Dampier and Cape Lambert will
resume ship loading later today," a Rio Tinto spokesman said.
Rail car dumping and mining was not affected and has been
continuing throughout the week, the spokesman said.
"It remains to be seen if as much rain falls in east Pilbara
region as was predicted earlier, we are closely monitoring that
situation," he said.
Cyclone Rusty, which packed winds up to 200 kms (120 miles)
per hour at its strongest, had closed all three ports which
handle 500 million tonnes of iron ore annually.
At one stage Port Hedland had expected a "direct hit" from
Rusty, but the massive category four storm, one short of the
most destructive category five, crossed the coast about 100kms
(62 miles ) north. It is now a category one storm and weakening.
"At this stage, things are looking pretty good, though we
still need to assess the situation for any damage," Port Hedland
Port Authority (PHPA) spokesman Steed Farrell said.
"Once these inspections are complete and everything is
confirmed as fully operational, the PHPA will look to open the
anchorage and port operations," he said.
Officials have lifted evacuation alerts for Port Hedland,
which was closed for a total of 86.5 hours. On average the port
moves 750,000 tonnes of iron ore a day.
"Storm surge is no longer a risk for the Port Hedland area
now that the cyclone has crossed the coast," the Western
Australian Fire and Emergency Services said in a statement.
Satellite tracking showed the cyclone crossed the coast near
Pardoo, a small mining town and cattle station about 100 kms (60
miles) northeast of Port Hedland, early on Thursday. Atlas Iron,
which operates a mine in Pardoo yielding around 2.5 million
metric tons of ore a year, has evacuated the site.
As Rusty weakens into a rain depression concerns of
widespread flooding remain, with weather warnings stretching 500
km (310 miles) inland to the mines and towns of Tom Price, Mt
Newman and Nullagine, operated by Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and
Fortescue Metals Group.
Spot iron ore prices steadied just under $152 a tonne this week, supported by the potential disruption
in supply from Australia.