By Morag MacKinnon
PERTH, February 24 Ports in Australia's Pilbara
region, through which almost half of the world's seaborne iron
ore is shipped, were due to close on Sunday ahead of a tropical
cyclone expected to cross the coast by Wednesday.
Port Hedland and Dampier ports were being closed and all
vessels sent out to sea in preparation for Cyclone Rusty, which
is forecast to bring strong winds and heavy rain to the area
early in the week.
"We expect to be fully closed by this evening", Port Hedland
Harbour Master John Finch told Reuters around 1700 local time
(0700 GMT). Dampier is expected to be fully closed by sunset on
Monday, Harbour Master John Fewings said in a statement.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said Rusty, currently a
Category 1 cyclone, was estimated to be some 350 kilometres (217
miles) north of Port Hedland on Sunday afternoon local time and
moving slowly south at 8 km per hour. The slow pace of the
cyclone indicates that it will bring higher than usual rainfall
and cause significant flooding, the bureau added.
"There is a high risk that it will cross the coast as a
severe tropical cyclone on Tuesday or Wednesday," the bureau
Cyclone Rusty is the latest to form off Australia's far
western Indian Ocean coastline and threatens to bring mining and
oil and gas production to a standstill.
The area holds shipping terminals at Port Hedland, where BHP
Billiton, Fortescue Metals Group Ltd and Atlas
Iron Ltd are forecast to ship more than 275 million
tonnes of iron ore this year.
The ports of Dampier and Cape Lambert, about 200 km south of
Port Hedland are used by Australia's biggest iron ore miner Rio
Tinto . Rio is targeting shipment of 260 million
tonnes of ore through these ports this year.
The northwestern 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.