Iron ore shipment lifts morale
The resumption of Esperance port’s iron ore trade will give the town time to diversify its economy, according to Esperance Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Kylie Ryan.
Mineral Resources sent the maiden train from its Koolyanobbing operations near Southern Cross on the 550km trip to the port late on Wednesday, the first arrival of the product in Esperance in five months.
The 7500-tonne cargo of iron ore fines, carried on 106 wagons, arrived early yesterday morning.
The mine was shut in June by its previous owner, US-based Cleveland Cliffs, prompting fears more than 120 port workers in Esperance would lose their jobs before ASX-listed MinRes purchased the operations.
Ms Ryan said the arrival of the first load was a morale booster for the community, with MinRes expected to ship 6-6.25 million tonnes of iron ore through Esperance for the next five to six years.
She said the arrangement would provide a window of opportunity to secure new sources of trade.
“It’s been very quiet without them coming through and we’ve noticed that absence, that gap that was left when Cliffs withdrew,” she said.
“I know the port are working really hard to not only support the Mineral Resources operations but also diversify the sort of products that go through, so they’re having lots of conversations throughout the region.
“What we don’t want to see again is that heavy reliance that the community had on any one resource because it creates a fragile state.
“If we have multiple resources moving through then obviously in terms of global economics if something falls a little bit in value we still have resources that can continue (shipping).”
The Koolyanobbing operation will be of a smaller scale than it was under Cliffs but once they are ramped up 15 trains will pass through the port each week.
Iron ore has been the port’s bread and butter trade since Koolyanobbing was opened by Portman Mining in 1994.
Southern Ports acting chief executive Alan Byers said the arrival of the first train was a “significant milestone”, and underpinned more than 100 jobs at the Esperance port operations.
MinRes managing director Chris Ellison said the company believes it can maintain a viable business through its Yilgarn iron ore trade.
“When we decided earlier this year to take on the Koolyanobbing operations previously operated by Cleveland-Cliffs, we did so because of our firm belief we could sustain a viable iron ore export operation in the region and safeguard hundreds of jobs in regional Western Australia,” he said. “We look forward to building up our iron ore stockpiles at the port of Esperance ahead of loading our first ship before the end of this year.”
Esperance port also ships grain, woodchips, lithium, nickel and copper concentrate, although iron ore accounted for 75 per cent of its exports when Cliffs made the call to shut Koolyanobbing earlier this year.
Josh Chiat Mineral Resources has restarted iron ore haulage to Esperance Port after a five-week absence.