Australia clears iron ore ports, miners brace as cyclones approach

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The operator of Australia’s key iron ore exporting ports said it was clearing ships from the sites as a severe tropical cyclone heads towards the northwestern coast, while miners were also bracing for a separate cyclone in the northeast.

The northwestern ports of Port Hedland, Dampier and Ashburton were beginning to clear anchorages and berths, Pilbara Ports said in a statement on Thursday. Port Hedland is the world’s largest export hub for iron ore.

World No.2 iron ore miner Rio Tinto is the main exporter at Dampier, while the second and third biggest exporters of the steelmaking material, BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group, ship from Port Hedland.

Tropical Cyclone Veronica was forecast to hit the coast halfway between Dampier and Port Hedland on Sunday morning, according to Australia’s weather agency. The ports are around 250 km (155 miles) apart by road.

Rio noted in a statement that ships have been cleared from Dampier and the port at Cape Lambert, which it operates, as a precaution, adding that all its other operations in the region were continuing as normal.

BHP said it was clearing its ships from Port Hedland, while Fortescue said it was “closely monitoring” the situation.

Meanwhile, miners were preparing for a second tropical cyclone that was heading towards the northeast, with authorities in the Northern Territory declaring a state of emergency.

Tropical Cyclone Trevor is expected to hit Port McArthur around midday on Saturday, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Glencore said on Thursday that it was making preparations at its McArthur River zinc mine in case the cyclone moved towards its Bing Bong loading facility or mine site in the coming days.

“Precautions have been taken at Bing Bong as per our standard operating procedure and other aspects of the business are operating as normal,” a Glencore spokesman told Reuters.

Rio suspended its Weipa bauxite mining operations at the northeastern tip of the country on Wednesday.

Reporting by Sonali Paul and Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Joseph Radford