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EXCLUSIVE: fire at the Port of Dampier damages iron ore screen-houses

Pictured: an abstract image of a fire; Credit: Shutterstock

EXCLUSIVE: a fire at the Port of Dampier has damaged iron ore miner and exporter Rio Tinto’s facilities. Iron ore exports from Dampier are likely to be severely disrupted. Iron ore prices will come under pressure, sources say, adding that dry bulk rates will “fall through the floor”.

Rumors have been circulating late this evening (Australian Eastern Standard Time) that there had been a fire at Dampier at the weekend. However, miner Rio Tinto had not made an immediate disclosure. Industry executives complained to FreightWaves that they had heard of the fire but had no details because of a lack of disclosure.

FreightWaves sought a statement from Rio Tinto but it refused to confirm or deny that there had been a fire at Dampier. A spokesperson for the miner said that the company would “try” to get a statement to FreightWaves.

However, FreightWaves was this evening independently told by two separate sources that there had in fact been a fire. One source provided details.

FreightWaves was told that “screen-houses” numbers two and seven had been damaged in a “rather serious” fire on East Intercourse Island. That island (see picture with the roughly triangle-shaped island; source – Google Earth) is home to iron ore stockpiles and loading jetties that fill capesize bulkers.

We sought insight from industry executives as to the significance of the screen-house fires to the international iron ore and dry bulk markets.

An executive explained that the screen-houses separate iron ore lumps from iron ore fines into separate stockpiles. The iron exports are loaded into bulkers as specified by their customers in a mix that is internationally known as the “Pilbara blend”.

“What this means is that the ships can’t load because the terminal can’t separate the lumps from the fines. They’ve had a cyclone, and a fire, and two more cyclones are on the way. Their throughput statistics will be terrible. They [Rio] could be in serious trouble,” the source explained to FreightWaves.

The source also provided some insights as to the international significance of the fire.

“It’ll put some pressure on the iron ore price. And freight rates will go through the floor because ships will just be hanging around without cargo,” the executive said.

Rio has had an unfortunate year so far this year. Its iron ore export facility, Port Walcott, was walloped by Cyclone Veronica and its operational capacity has been greatly diminished. Veronica also disrupted iron ore export ports along the Pilbara coast for at least four days. And Rio also suffered a fire at its Port Walcott facility in January this year.

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Jim Wilson, Australia Correspondent

Sydney-based journalist and photojournalist, Jim Wilson, is the Australia Correspondent for FreightWaves. Since beginning his journalism career in 2000, Jim has primarily worked as a business reporter, editor, and manager for maritime publications in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. He has won several awards for logistics-related journalism and has had photography published in the global maritime press. Jim has also run publications focused on human resources management, workplace health and safety, venture capital, and law. He holds a degree in law and legal practice.

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