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Australia Eases Access to Seaborne Coal Markets



By Jo Clarke


May 14, 2020 - Australia's Queensland coal ports are easing Covid-19 restrictions on foreign crews, as vessel queues dwindle and the mining industry seeks ways to ease access to the seaborne market as it faces an anticipated period of sustained lower demand.

The Australian government in mid-March in response to the coronavirus announced that arriving crew must remain on board until it was at least 14 days since they embarked. It eased some of these restrictions at some ports later in March and has now begun to relax them further. Queensland ports have removed additional controls on crew arriving from China and South Korea, while Gladstone is to further ease the 14-day quarantine period from May 15.

The move is designed to ease pressures on the seaborne coal trade. Canberra is keen to support Australia's coal industry, which is competing with other coal exporting nations to maintain market share among dwindling demand for thermal and coking coal because of the pandemic.

Throughput remains below average at the two largest of the four main coal exporting terminals in Queensland, with Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal (DBCT) and Gladstone both operating at low annualised rates for the first 11 days in May.

The 85mn t/yr capacity DBCT loaded vessels with a dead weight tonnage (dwt) capacity of 1.88mn dwt, which implies an annualised rate of around 67.6mn dwt/yr, down from 75.3mn dwt/yr in May 2019 and for the whole of 2019. It was up from 64.2mn dwt/yr in April but continues the port's run of below 2019-average performance for every month this year.

The 102mn t/yr Gladstone port, which had a stronger start to 2020 than DBCT, has had a slow start to May. It operated at an annualized rate of 73mn dwt/yr in the first third of the month, down from 81.1mn dwt/yr in May 2019 and 86.7mn dwt for the whole of 2019.

The fall in throughput has coincided with a drop in the size of the vessel queues off all Queensland ports, as demand eases. The queue outside the neighbouring ports of Hay Point and DBCT fell to 29 vessels today from 55 on March 23. The queue at Gladstone has fallen to a below average six from 25 and at Abbot Point to three from 10 over the same comparison, with queues at all ports, except for the BHP-operated Hay Point, now below average.

DBCT has set a target of shipping at an annualized rate of 68.57mn t/yr in May but has shipped at a rate of 58.9mn t/yr in the first 12 days of the month, according to port data. The port shipped 4.94mn t in April. which is an annualized rate of 60.1mn t/yr.