PORT of Townsville is a step closer to welcoming trade, defence, and cruise opportunities with the arrival of Australia’s largest backhoe dredge, Woomera, driving the port’s channel upgrade.

The $232 million channel upgrade is the largest infrastructure project in the port’s 158-year history, enabling ships of up to 300 metres long to access the port.

The project will double the width of the shipping channel at the inshore end, tapering to 120 metres at the seaward end.

Helmed by Queensland-based company Hall Contracting, all material removed during capital dredging will be brought on land for beneficial reuse in a reclamation area bounded by a rock wall.

The reclamation area will enable the port to expand in the future with room for up to six new berths, with trade volumes expected to triple over the next 30 years.

Port of Townsville CEO Ranee Crosby said Woomera’s arrival marked an exciting step for the project.

“The Port of Townsville is northern Australia’s largest general cargo port and services the region’s agriculture, mining, defence, construction, retail, vehicle and tourism industries,” she said.

“Despite our port’s size, diversity and significance to north Australia’s industries, our shipping channel is one of the narrowest in Australia, measuring just 92 metres across.

“As ships are getting larger it is critical the channel is widened to ensure we can continue to service North Queensland, support the region’s economy, and prepare for future growth for emerging industries including the export of green hydrogen.”

Mark Bailey, Queensland minister for transport and main roads, said Port of Townsville was backed by the Labor government’s $105 million investment toward the upgrade.

“I’m pleased to see Woomera now arrive at the port, to begin the dredging required to set the Port of Townsville up for a booming future,” he said.

“With the widening of the channel comes more opportunities for the port, for Townsville and for Queensland, creating jobs and boosting the economy at a time when it’s needed most.”

Federal member for Herbert Phil Thompson said the facilitation of larger ships would be vital to the region’s economy.

“The channel upgrade will create jobs and drive the economy not just in the short term, but for decades to come as we’re able to bring in ships up to 26% longer than can currently be accommodated,” he said.

The Woomera is a mechanical dredge that uses an excavator to dig compact material from the seabed. It will begin dredging a small area to provide access to the reclaim area during daylight hours from next week, before moving to the shipping channel.

Channel widening is expected to take two years.