COVID rocks coal industry as exports drop

Weather events, operational issues at mines and a fall in demand for coal because of COVID-19 have cut exports at North Queensland ports, a state-owned corporation has revealed.

North Queensland Bulk Ports is responsible for the ports of Hay Point, Mackay, Abbot Point and Weipa and the non-trading Port of Maryborough.

In its 2019-20 annual report, the corporation said total throughput was 165.7 million tonnes, including almost 143 million tonnes of metallurgical and thermal coal worth some $20bn.

The throughput was down 6.6 per cent on the previous year.

The Port of Hay Point, which includes the Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay coal terminals, handled 110.86 million tonnes of coal, while the Port of Abbot Point set a record throughput of 31.88 million tonnes.

The corporation said throughput at Hay Point, one of the largest coal export ports in the world, was affected by weather events during summer, operational impacts at some central Queensland mines and impacts across the entire supply chain in managing COVID-19.

Coal ships queued up at Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Coal loading facilities. Coal ships moored offshore. Photo : Daryl Wright
Coal ships queued up at Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay Coal loading facilities. Coal ships moored offshore. Photo : Daryl Wright

Global demand for coal also decreased in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it said.

The corporation's chair, Brad Fish, said he was proud of the way the organisation's staff responded to the pandemic - adopting new ways of working and implementing new controls to safeguard against the spread of the virus.

But while he said the corporation finished the year in a strong financial position, its net profit was cut to $7.1m in 2019-20, well down on $15.8m in the previous year. Even so, its dividend paid to the state government rose to $13.9m, up from $9.9m in 2018-19.

Among its other ports, the Port of Mackay recorded 3.18m tonnes of trade throughput for only the second time as the corporation focused on building its potential.

Mackay has become a major petroleum import location, hitting two billion litres for the first time. Its sugar exports totalled 1.05 million tonnes.

At the Port of Weipa, throughput declined from 27.34 million tonnes in 2018-19 to 19.79 million tonnes in 2019-20.

The corporation said this reflected a ramp down in volumes from the East Weipa Mine as it approached the end of its life and, more broadly, the competitive nature of the bauxite market.

Originally published as COVID rocks coal industry as exports drop


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