Australia’s Queensland coal ship queues remain stubbornly high, as weather interruptions disrupted the usual December increase in metallurgical and coal exports from the state’s four largest ports.
Hay Point, Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal (DBCT), Gladstone and Abbot Point collectively shipped 17.6mn t of coal in December, up from 17.3mn t in November and 17.12mn t in December 2022, according to port data. The November to December increase is smaller than in previous years, largely because of the slow moving category 2 Cyclone Jasper that hit north Queensland in mid-December and another storm system that hit southern Queensland later in the month.
Vessel queues are significantly above average at 44 in Gladstone, down from a high for the year of 48 a month ago and 53 outside the nearby ports of Hay Point and DBCT, up from 50 a month ago. Abbot Point queues are more average at six. The capacity of ports to boost throughput to cut wait times and demurrage costs for coal mining firms depends heavily on the weather.
The wet season continues to bring heavy rainfall to Queensland in January despite expectations that the El Nino weather pattern would deliver drier weather to the state. The remnants of Cyclone Jasper are reforming over the Gulf of Carpentaria but the Bureau of Meteorology gives it a low risk of returning to cyclone status.
Gladstone had the strongest end to the year of the four ports at 6.31mn t exported, up by 10pc on November and by 21pc on December 2022. It shipped 12pc more coal in 2023 than the depressed 2022 but still 14pc below the record set in 2019.
Abbot Point shipped 3.11mn t in December, up from 3mn t in November and 2.45mn t in December 2022. It increased shipments in 2023 from 2022 by 23pc to 34.66mn t and was the only one of the four ports to ship more than in 2019 with a 13pc increase. The port is shipping coal from Indian conglomerate Adani’s Carmichael mine, which started operating in January 2022 and is raising output towards its 10mn t/yr capacity.
The BHP Mitsubishi Alliance-operated Hay Point had a slow 2023, down by 8pc on 2022 and 28pc on 2019, with the port carrying out major maintenance and BHP declining to make any investment in mining in Queensland after the state raised royalty rates on 1 July 2021. December shipments of 2.97mn t were down by 7pc on November and by 26pc on December 2022.
DBCT’s December shipments of 5.2mn t were down by 3pc on November and by 4pc on December 2022 but its 2023 exports of 59.2mn t were up by 27pc on 2022 and down by 13pc on 2019. DBCT services several smaller mining firms in the Bowen basin and international firms like Anglo American and Peabody that are recovering from major safety incidents in 2021 and 2022.
There is plenty of capacity at all four ports to raise throughput and cut shipping queues, weather permitting.
By Jo Clarke
Queensland coal exports (mn t)
Australian coal price comparisons ($/t)