SYDNEY Jan 22 Ships waiting to dock at
Australia's Port Hedland bulk export terminals started on
Tuesday heading for safe waters as a tropical low which is
forecast to reach cyclone strength makes its way down the far
west coastline of the Pilbara iron belt.
Loading operations were still taking place at Port Hedland
as the storm is not expected to intensify to a Category 1
cyclone -- the weakest on a scale of one-to-five -- until early
Vessels anchored off the port, however, have left for safe
harbours, according to a port spokesperson.
Port Hedland is used by BHP Billiton ,
Fortescue Metals Group and Atlas Iron to ship
ore, currently at a rate of around 200 million tonnes per year,
accounting for a fifth of global seaborne trade in the
steel-making raw material.
"I can tell you 35 vessels have been evacuated, these are
vessels somewhat out to sea which were waiting to dock," the
port spokesperson said. "At the moment, there are only seven
ships in dock."
If the storm reaches cyclone intensity, then gales with wind
gusts of up to 100 kph (60 mph) could develop between Pardoo and
Dampier on Wednesday morning, according to the Australian Bureau
BHP and Fortescue have each decided against loading vessels
to maximum weigh limits as a precautionary safety measure while
the progress of the storm is monitored, the spokesperson said.
Total iron ore shipments from Port Hedland in December
reached a monthly record 26 million tonnes.
A cyclone that intensified 11 days ago several hundred
kilometers south of Port Hedand shut ports handling nearly 200
million tonnes of ore shipped annually by Rio Tinto
and cut supplies of natural gas and oil.
Rio Tinto was monitoring the progress of the latest storm,
according to a company spokesperson.
At this stage if a cyclone forms it will not occur until the
low has moved some 200 km (125 miles) south of Port Hedland,
based on current forecasts, placing it closer to Rio Tinto's
facilities at the ports of Dampier and Cape Lambert.
Most of the iron ore mined in Australia is contracted by
Chinese steel mills, with Japanese and South Korean mills also
Before the last cyclone, Woodside Petroleum, Apache
Energy and BHP disconnected oil production vessels from
offshore fields that contribute about a third of Australia's oil
production of 390,000 barrels per day..
"Woodside is taking the necessary precautions to safeguard
our people and assets in response to the tropical low currently
located off Australia's north west coast," a company