Wednesday 13th Dec, 2017

SPECIAL REPORT: Regional Ports

Port of Newcastle CEO, Geoff Crowe. Photo: Jim Wilson
Port of Newcastle CEO, Geoff Crowe. Photo: Jim Wilson

AUSTRALIA’S largest coal port is achieving growth in many other areas than just dry bulk, Newcastle Port chief executive Geoff Crowe says.

Mr Crowe, who has run the privatised entity for the past two years, spoke at a recent Shipping Australia lunch held at the Newcastle Club.

Addressing the audience, he noted how good things were happening, not just at the Port but in the adjacent city as well.

“A lot of great things have been happening at the Port of Newcastle. Not just in the port but in Newcastle itself,” he said.

“It is an exciting place and has revitalised and the port has been a part of that.”

The Port of Newcastle is the third-biggest port in Australia and the world’s largest coal export port by volume.

“There are a lot of exciting things supporting the growth in coal.

“In particular, some of the non-coal operations that have expanded. The import of bulk fuels is now our second-biggest trade,” he said.

“We’ve got the east coast cement facility. We’ve got the magnetite storage facility that is developing and growing as well.”

Newcastle Port moved 170m tonnes in trade volumes during the 2016-17 financial year, something Mr Crowe said was “a significant record”.

“If you look at trade in the year to date –January through to July – compare with 2016 – non coal trade is up 36%. Coal is up on the previous year,” he said.

“In the first six months of the year, we’ve exported more wheat than we have in a whole year in the last 20 years.

“So we are up around 1.6m tonnes that we’ve exported through wheat in Graincorp and Newcastle AGRI Terminal.”

Cooperation with the ARTC and the growers, he noted, “has been very successful”.

“The growers are having a good season.

“We have been importing a lot of fertiliser which has made our common user berths, particularly K2, extremely busy which is a good way to be,” he said.

Steel imports at the port are also increasing.

“So overall it is a positive story in terms of trade and that has continued to grow,’ he said.

Coal demand

Mr Crowe explained how demand had improved for high-quality Hunter Valley energy coal.

“There has been a recovery in the coal selling price. There has been some further investment in coal mines, it is a promising sign,” he said.

“We’ve done 162.8m tonnes in the financial year which is another record and Port Waratah has been busy.

“We’ve got two new shiploaders for the Carrington coal terminal.”

The project, he noted, was worth around $58m, with capacity still available.

Fuel, he said, was the Port’s second largest trade, with 1639 megalitres during 2016-17, Stolthaven being a major player.

“They still have capacity and expansion approvals,” Mr Crowe explained.

Let’s cruise

He noted significant publicity surrounding the cruise terminal.

“We are in the design phase and start construction next year. That should be completed by the end of 2018,” he said.

“Off the back of that, we will be able to attract bigger vessels. We have two voyages from the Explorer of the Seas in February of 2019.”

To date, the largest cruise vessel to visit has been the Celebrity Solstice which is about 317 metres long.

“So that is around about 2800 passengers,” he said.

Another busy season is expected this summer.

Money from the New South Wales state government would, he said, assist by ensuring good infrastructure in the Hunter.

“You have got to have connectivity. You have got to have uncongested access for our customers,” he said. “We’re very fortunate in the Hunter and Newcastle to have Newcastle Airport and rail access through ARTC.

“We’ve got good roads and industrial access. They are very important and they are certainly recognised in the NSW state government’s 2036 Hunter plan.

“We look forward to creating more opportunities.”

Mr Crowe talked of almost doubling the annual 170m tonnes of trade.

“We do about 4000 – 4500 vessel movements a year. We can actually do about 10,000 vessel movements,” he said.

“So in terms of tonnes, we can do about 328m tonnes per annum.

“That coupled with the 200 hectares of available land and we have got some land which we call the jewel in the crown which is the old steelworks site which presents great opportunities.”

Newcastle Port channel is 15.2m deep and extends for many kilometres so “we’re designed for big ships and opportunities”.

Catchment area

Mr Crowe talked of a gigantic catchment area, west out to Parkes, north up to Moree and then deep into other regional areas of northern New South Wales.

“The areas are rich in mineral concentrates, agriculture and other products,” he said.

“We’re already bringing in a number of those products through the port and are really looking forward to increasing that.

“In recent times we’ve started importing goods for country areas.”

Examples are wind turbines.

“We’ve had 70 wind turbines to go to the White Rock project (on the New England Tableland). Other turbines for the Sapphire wind farm,” he said.

“So that is unique – we can actually take those wind turbines direct to berth.

“They can remain there until they’re ready to be trucked to the New England area – no double-handling and that reduces the cost for the customer.”

Rail collaboration

Mr Crowe said collaboration between themselves and the ARTC was crucial.

“We did at the end of 2015 deliver a 1.3km grain train.

“It was well done and really showed what is possible in terms of our supply chain,” he said.

“It saves the growers costs.”

Room to grow

He noted potential from a 90 hectare area “the jewel in the crown” where there has been recent development.

“Stolthaven is building a new berth which will redistribute vessels.

“Longer term, we see a real opportunity there for a container terminal, ro-ro, a car import facility or something of that order,” he said.

“If we’ve got as business case that we’re willing to promote, we’re going to have a crack at it.

“It’s too good a site. It has got rail access and we’ve already got up-country growers and farmers keen to see what we are going to do with that.”

From the print edition September 14, 2017

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