World's biggest iron-ore port shut as storm nears Australia

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

MELBOURNE, Australia — Iron-ore shipments from northern Australia, the world's biggest exporter, and some offshore oil drilling were halted as a cyclone forecast to bring gusts topping 200 kilometers (124 miles) an hour neared the coast.

Tropical Cyclone Christine, which intensified to a Category 3 storm overnight, is expected to make landfall at about midnight local time between Karratha and Port Hedland on the Pilbara coast of Western Australia, said Neil Bennett, a spokesman for the Bureau of Meteorology.

"When you have winds in excess of 200 kilometers per hour you have got a very, very powerful system on your hands," Bennett said at a news briefing in Perth. "This one needs to be treated with a great deal of care and a great deal of caution."

Port Hedland, the world's largest ore-export terminal located about 1,300 kilometers (807 miles) north of Perth, and two other ports halted shipments Sunday as mining company BHP Billiton Ltd. said it's preparing for severe weather across the region. Australia is set to account for about 52 percent of global seaborne iron-ore supply this year, according to Morgan Stanley.

"The worst-case scenario would be if this came onshore pretty hard, hit the pits and also hit the rail networks," said Evan Lucas, a Melbourne-based strategist at IG Markets.

Iron ore, which rose 0.2 percent to $134.20 a dry metric ton today, may drop 7.5 percent next year as global supplies increase, according to Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. BHP climbed 1.3 percent to A$38.02 in Sydney trading.

Rio Tinto Group, the world's largest iron-ore exporter after Vale, closed its Pilbara port and rail operations and evacuated workers, spokesman Bruce Tobin said Monday by email. Chevron and Woodside Petroleum are among energy companies evacuating workers in the region.

Gales with gusts of as much as 120 kilometers an hour are sweeping through coastal communities near Port Hedland, the bureau said. The cyclone poses a threat to lives and homes in areas including Port Hedland, South Hedland and Karratha, Western Australia's Department of Fire and Emergency Services said in a statement.

Port Hedland exports iron ore from mines owned by BHP and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd. The storm is moving away from the terminal and winds there are slowly easing, the bureau said in a statement at 8:07 p.m. western standard time. The storm was about 90 kilometers west of Port Hedland at that time and winds in Karratha were intensifying as it approached the coastal town.