Cyclone Spares Australian Iron Ore Port as It Heads to Mines

Australia’s Port Hedland, home to the world’s biggest bulk export terminal, escaped with minor damage from a weakening tropical Cyclone Rusty, which is now moving inland to the Pilbara iron ore mining region.

The cyclone, which started as a Category 4 storm, made landfall 110 kilometers (68 miles) north of the port town yesterday. It has weakened to Category 1 and is currently 100 kilometers east-northeast of the Marble Bar settlement, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said in a statement posted at 11:00 a.m. western standard time on its website.

Port Hedland, which exports product from mines owned by BHP Billiton Ltd., Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. and Atlas Iron Ltd., reopened its anchorage this morning and expects to resume inbound shipping from 4 p.m local time, the port authority said in an e-mail. Rio Tinto expects to resume ship-loading at the nearby ports of Dampier and Cape Lambert later today, the company said in an e-mail. The operations closed on Feb. 25 ahead of the cyclone.

Both Rio and BHP are monitoring the weather for an expected spell of heavy rainfall in the eastern Pilbara, where some the companies’ mines are located, they said in separate e-mails.

“Heavy rainfall is likely to lead to major flooding in the De Grey catchment,” the bureau said. “Significant flooding is also possible in the Upper Fortescue catchment and in remaining east Pilbara coastal streams.”

Western Ports

Port Hedland, Dampier, Port Walcott and other ports in Western Australia handled iron-ore shipments totaling more than 500 million metric tons last year, or a 43 percent world share, according to Alphabulk. They accounted for 24 percent of demand for Capesizes, the biggest ore carriers.

Prolonged rainfall from Rusty expected over mines owned by BHP and Fortescue “could lead to more significant long-term loss of production,” the Paris-based bulk-shipping information provider said in an e-mailed statement. The companies are Australia’s second- and third-largest ore exporters, respectively. Atlas may also be affected, according to a bureau projection.

Cyclone season lasts from about November to April and high winds as well as flooding can disrupt iron ore operations in the world’s biggest exporter.

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