Australia approves Newcastle coal port expansion

Australia approves Newcastle coal port expansion

Australia’s New South Wales state government has approved plans for a new coal export terminal at the port of Newcastle, which has suffered from severe congestion that has hurt the country’s coal exports.

The A$922 million ($768 million) terminal, planned to start operations in 2009, will add nearly two-thirds to the port’s capacity.

It will be built by the Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group (NCIG) and will initially process up to 33 million tonnes of coal a year, expanding to a maximum capacity of 66 million tonnes. Currently the port can handle 102 million tonnes a year.

“We hope that the first ship will be loaded at the NCIG Terminal in the second half of 2009,” Brian Flannery, acting chairman of the NCIG, said in a statement released on Friday. It said the terminal, the third at Newcastle port, would eventually boost coal exports by A$1 billion a year.

The new terminal comes after vessel queues at the port, the world’s biggest coal export terminal, reached a record level of 72 ships this month and the average waiting time for ships grew to 28 days, also a new high. [nSIN254531]

The delays, caused by infrastructure constraints and maintenance work, have hurt exports of coal just as demand soars on world markets. Australia is the world’s largest producer of thermal coal and the delays have been costing the industry more than A$1 million a day in fees paid to compensate shipping firms.

The NSW state government also approved a separate plan for a A$78 million expansion of an existing coal terminal at Newcastle, increasing its capacity to 120 million tonnes a year from 77 million.

The NCIG comprises Hunter Valley Energy Coal Ltd., Centennial Coal Company Ltd. , Donaldson Coal Pty Ltd, Excel Coal Ltd. — a unit of Peabody Energy Corp. — as well as Felix Resources Ltd. and Whitehaven Coal Mining Pty Ltd.

Hunter Valley Energy Coal is owned by BHP Billiton Ltd./Plc . ($1=A$1.20) (Additional reporting by Michael Byrnes)

Source: Reuters

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