PERTH, Australia Feb 21 A weak tropical low off
Australia's northwest coast is expected to strengthen into a
cyclone over the weekend, moving toward the country's western
Pilbara iron ore mining belt, the Australian Bureau of
Meteorology said on Thursday.
The tropical storm is likely to develop into a cyclone late
on Saturday or Sunday off the state of Western Australia.
"Next week there is a significant risk that this system will
become a severe tropical cyclone and impact the Pilbara or West
Kimberley," the weather bureau said on its website.
The Pilbara region ships nearly half of the world's seaborne
iron ore, mostly to steel mills in China, Japan and South Korea.
The area is home to Port Hedland, which handles about a
fifth of the world's seaborne-traded iron ore and is used by
BHP Billiton, Fortescue Metals Group and Atlas
The ports of Dampier and Cape Lambert, used by Australia's
biggest iron ore miner Rio Tinto , are also
located in the Pilbara region.
All three ports were forced to shut late last month after a
storm measuring category 1 -- the weakest on a scale of
Australia's cyclone season runs from November to April and
the region between Port Hedland and Dampier is known among
mariners as "cyclone alley", with at least half a dozen storms
forming there each season.
The northwest region is also home to two of the country's
largest gas production facilities, Woodside's Northwest
Shelf and Pluto liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants.
Woodside, Santos, Chevron, Apache
and BHP Billiton also produce oil from offshore
fields that contribute about a third of Australia's oil
production of 390,000 barrels per day.
Oil and gas companies often shut down production during
severe cyclones. Santos said its floating production and
storage, and offloading vessel that it uses in the region is
currently undergoing maintenance in Singapore.
Other operators in the area did not immediately respond to
requests for comment.