February 15, 2019 / 2:39 AM / 9 months ago

Australian miner Fortescue says two driverless trucks involved in low-speed incident

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian iron ore miner Fortescue said on Friday that one of its driverless trucks, traveling at low speed, ran into another that was parked at its remote Western Australian operations in an incident earlier this week.

An autonomous truck readies to pick up a load of iron ore at Australia's Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) Chichester Hub, which includes the Christmas Creek iron ore mine, in the Pilbara region, located southeast of the coastal town of Port Hedland in Western Australia, November 29, 2018. REUTERS/Melanie Burton

The miner said in a statement that no one was hurt or at risk of being injured in the Feb. 11 incident. Fortescue is retrofitting 100 huge mining trucks with autonomous haulage systems (AHS) at its remote Chichester hub, aiming to more than double its self-driving fleet.

“This was not the result of any failure of the autonomous system,” Fortescue Chief Executive Elizabeth Gaines said in the statement. The miner is conducting a full investigation into the incident and expects that to conclude in the near future.

“On Monday, 11 February an AHS truck made contact with a parked AHS truck at slow speed,” the statement said, without disclosing the speed at which the moving vehicle was traveling or details of any damage to the trucks. “No manned vehicles or people were involved.”

Analysts said that minor accidents with autonomous vehicles had been reported in the mining industry before. All of Australia’s iron ore miners have transitioned into using some autonomous vehicles to cut costs as they can operate without breaks and drive more efficiently.

“These things happen (across the industry) from time to time,” said UBS analyst Glyn Lawcock in Sydney.

Earlier on Friday the West Australian paper, without citing sources, reported the moving truck backed into the stationary vehicle.

Fortescue, which said its AHS trucks have safely traveled more than 24.7 million km (14.8 million miles) since 2012, declined to comment directly on the West Australian’s report.

A spokesman for the firm, which reports earnings on Feb. 20, said, “We already have a good understanding of the incident and expect the investigation to conclude in the near term.”

The Western Australian Department of Mines was notified by Fortescue and has begun an investigation, Director of Mines Safety Andrew Chaplyn said in a statement.

“The department will review the company’s internal investigation report to determine what further actions may be required,” he said.

Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Christian Schmollinger

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