Coal Ships Seek to Avoid Path of Queensland Cyclone

Coal ships sailed away from the Queensland coast after ports and rail transport lines were closed as Tropical Cyclone Yasi approached Australia, the biggest exporter of the fuel.

At least 32 vessels have headed out to sea after Hay Point harbor and the Abbot Point export terminal were shut, according to North Queensland Bulks Ports Corp. and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal Pty. Yasi, a category five storm, is expected to strike the coast late today, packing winds in excess of 280 kilometers (174 miles) an hour.

“They’ll try and move away from land,” Greg Smith, general manager of operations at the Dalrymple Bay export facility, said by phone today. “Their biggest fear will be getting blown onto some form of shallow, so they’ll probably seek deeper water off the continental shelf, or try and steam as far south, where they’ll be out of reach of the winds.”

BHP Billiton Ltd., Rio Tinto Group and Xstrata Plc are among producers that export through Hay Point, the world’s biggest export harbor for steelmaking coal. Yasi was 445 kilometers east of Cairns at 10 a.m. local time, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Category five is the highest level in the storm classification system.

About 30 ships were waiting to load at Dalrymple Bay, Smith said. The facility is one of two terminals at Hay Point, about 1,000 kilometers north of the state capital Brisbane, and has combined capacity to export 129 million tons a year.

‘Deeper Anchorages’

“For the safety of the vessels and crew, they are sent to deeper anchorages,” Mary Steele, a Brisbane-based spokeswoman for North Queensland Bulk Ports, said in an e-mailed response to questions today. The company manages Abbot Point, 25 kilometers north of the town of Bowen. Two ships were waiting to load cargoes, Steele said.

Abbot Point has one terminal with an export capacity of 21 million tons a year. It shipped 16.9 million tons and handled 224 vessels in the 12 months ended June 30, 2010, the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp website shows. Bowen is about 1,100 kilometers north of Brisbane.

QR National Ltd., Australia’s biggest transporter of coal by rail, halted train services on the Newlands line to Abbot Point and the Goonyella network serving Hay Point, Mark Hairsine, a spokesman for the company, said yesterday.

The cyclone, which comes just weeks after the state’s capital Brisbane was hit by the worst flooding since 1974, is “likely to be more life threatening than any experienced during recent generations,” according to the bureau. It is forecast to be more severe than Cyclone Larry, which wiped out most of Australia’s banana crop and devastated sugar cane fields when it struck northern Queensland almost five years ago.

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