BHP has shut down the world’s largest iron ore export port, Port Hedland, as Cyclone Veronica bears down on the West Australian coast.
The miner has suspended all port and rail activities in the region, telling workers to get to safety ahead of the category three cyclone smashing into Western Australia’s north-west coast near Karratha, Port Hedland and the Pilbara.
“Port Hedland is now on red alert, the impacts of Severe Tropical Cyclone Veronica are imminent,” BHP said in a release to workers.
“We strongly encourage all BHP employees and Port Hedland residents to act immediately to put their safety first. Seek shelter immediately.”
While the storm is yet to hit the port, because it is a slow-moving cyclone it is expected to have a longer period of destruction.
BHP has already sent all non-essential fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers home and the majority of ships were sent to sea earlier in the week to ride out the storm.
While BHP has currently shuttered operations, Port Hedland could be reopened and ships prepared for loading iron ore between one to three days after Cyclone Veronica passes, depending on the severity of the storm.
However, if there is severe localised flooding that damages infrastructure it may take longer.
Rio Tinto, which operates the Cape Lambert and Dampier ports between Karratha and Port Hedland, said it also sent ships to sea for safety.
“Safety is our top priority and we continue to monitor the movement of the cyclone. As a precautionary measure, the ports of Cape Lambert and Dampier were cleared of vessels and port operations stopped ahead of the cyclone,” a Rio Tinto spokesman said.
“Rail operations in the Pilbara and mining at our Robe Valley operations have also been suspended.”
Fortescue Metals Group, which ships iron ore from the Herb Elliot in Port Hedland, was approached for comment.
The shut down of the ports and halting of iron ore exports come during a global iron ore supply shortage, after Brazilian mining giant Vale was forced to halt operations following a number of catastrophic iron ore waste dam disasters.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) warned Cyclone Veronica would bring destructive winds of up to 165 kilometres an hour at the height of the storm, with major flooding throughout the Pilbara.
It is currently tracking to hit land 90 kilometres west of Port Hedland and 100 kilometres northeast of Karratha, with expectations it will get stronger over Sunday night and into Monday.
In the past 24 hours, Port Hedland has already registered 181 millimetres of rain, with BOM forecasting the potential of up to 400 millimetres of rain. This is more than the average annual rainfall for the area.
Port Hedland is BHP’s major West Australian port and is capable of shipping of up to 290 million tonnes per annum of iron ore around the world. More than half of Western Australia’ iron ore is shipped through Port Hedland.
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 24 March 2019