PILBARA Ports Authority chief executive, Roger Johnston, has outlined just how they ensure absolute maximum export productivity at Port Hedland.

The West Australian port is a mighty cog in the global iron ore trade, but comes with the challenge of 7.4 metre tides.

“Frankly, Port Hedland is just a dugout creek. So in the few years I’ve been there, we dug out 26 million tonnes of spoil and that has created a bath effect,” Mr Johnston told Regional Ports 2017.

“With a 7.4 metre tide, every time your tide rises and falls and you’ve dug a bigger and bigger hole, you have a stronger current running through.”

The Port Hedland Inner Harbour is 14.8 metres deep while the channel is 22 nautical miles (45km) long and up to 16.6m deep.

At its narrowest point, the channel is 183 metres and with the vast size of bulk vessels, Mr Johnston said it could be described as “like threading the eye of a needle”.

“If you run five degrees off true at the Port Hedland channel, you will ground your ship in 26 seconds,” he said.

That is where they Dynamic Under Keel Clearance systems comes in, the well-known technology developed by OMC.


Mr Johnston said the relationship with OMC dated back more than two decades and it now allowed them to every day send out bulkers that are 90cm from the bottom of the channel.

“So about four hours before departure, we start blending real life data with the calculated data.

“About two hours from departure, we then switch over to real life data,” he said.

“We can make sure that bulk carriers are loaded to their absolute maximum capacity.”

He said they wanted to get Port Hedland to 577m tonnes a year in export capacity.

“But that is under its current configuration. Work is going on at the moment. Our modelling shows that we can get up to 685m tonnes without too much further investment in the actual port itself.”

He noted the vast scale of rail freight to Port Hedland and Dampier.

“Just for Port Hedland and Dampier alone, we take 58 trains a day. They are 3km long and they carry 30,000 tonnes if you then throw in Cape Lambert, that is 79 train deliveries a day, each train being 3km long and carrying 30,000 tonnes.”