Esperance Port trade down but future positive: Port chief

Southern Ports Authority acting chief executive officer Alan Byers. Photo: Jesinta Burton.
Southern Ports Authority acting chief executive officer Alan Byers. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

Despite overall trade through the Esperance Port dropping by 24 per cent in the last year, Southern Ports Authority acting chief executive officer Alan Byers said he was positive about new trade in the region.

The downward trend was led by a 27 per cent decrease in iron ore exports, dropping from 11.2 million tonnes to 8.2 million tonnes during the 2017/18 financial year.

The drop follows Cliffs Asia Pacific Iron Ore’s decision to cease shipping and rail out of Esperance, with the state government securing a new operator for the Koolyanobbing mine just weeks before the last shipment.

Lithium export almost quadrupled through Esperance during the year, increasing from 55,000 tonnes to 202,000 tonnes.

The trade was also bolstered by the addition of new customer Tawana Resources which exported its inaugural shipment of spodumene concentrate in early 2018.

Mr Byers said the authority would continue to work with the state government and other stakeholders to facilitate the continuation of iron ore export and attract new trade.

“These important gains have not outweighed the decrease in iron ore tonnage through Esperance of three million tonnes,” he said.

“We’d all love to think that another iron ore provider will come through and have millions and millions of tonnes but the little miners are really important - they employ a lot of people, all local, they look to come to the local areas.

“I’m positive that in the next 18 months to two years we’ll see a lot of new trade come through.”

The report was made public during a community information session hosted by Southern Ports and Independence Group on Saturday, July 14, which also provided information on export from IGO’s Nova Operation in the Fraser Range.

Southern Ports have facilitated 12 shipments of the company’s product on a trial basis since June, 2017, on an extension of the Authority’s environmental licence known as a ‘works approval’.

The company has sought to amend the environmental licence to facilitate the trade on a permanent basis.

Mr Byers said controls in the system on product quality and container hygiene had ensured all emissions had been below relevant health and ecological limits.

IGO Nova general manager Chris Carr said the company would like to utilise the port and its facilities and looked forward to working with stakeholders.

“We would like to utilise the Port of Esperance as it is the closest one to the mine and they have a very, very competent team here and great facilities so we wouldn’t want to go anywhere else,” he said.

“We are currently working under a works approval until January next year, so we need to move on and confirm.

“Qube will transport our concentrate in sealed boxes and we have a lot of environmental monitoring right throughout the process.

“We look forward to working with stakeholders; we think it will be good for the Port of Esperance and it will be good for us as well.”

Mr Byers said he believed the company had experienced greater difficulty in the approvals process because of the region’s difficult history with contamination.

“I was in a corporate governance meeting the other day and Esperance got a mention again for their nickel,” he said.

“You know it won’t go away - it takes generations for people to get that confidence back again.

“IGO have probably done it tougher than anyone else coming through the port because of the history there and it’s a really important lesson to remember – if you get it wrong, people won’t forget.

“It’s obviously really slowed things for IGO and our regulators are going to be very, very careful and that’s to be expected.

“We’ve worked with the regulator for a long period of time but we’ve had 12 nickel shipments out and everything has gone really well.”