MINERAL Resources will begin exports from its Onslow Iron project mid-year upon the completion of commissioning work on the first two of its new mega-transhippers.

MinRes Airlie and MinRes Coolibah were built by COSCO Shipyard Group, with the hulls constructed at Zhoushan and then fitted with the dust-free transhipment equipment in Nantong.

In February sea trials included testing the Articulated Tug and Barge (ATB) system, with the tug MinRes Odin (formerly the AHTS Mermaid Sound, converted in Batam) successfully interlocking with the barge to power the transhipper.  Other manoeuvers tested included speed, turning angles, stopping time and checks of the navigation and mechanical systems.

The transhippers were then loaded on Cosco Specialized Carriers’ heavylift/flo-flo Xin Guang Hua and delivered to Dampier, where they were floated off 16-19 April and taken to anchorage by tugs MinRes Odin and MinRes Thor.

At 124 x 36 metres, the transhippers will have a seven-metre draft when fully loaded with 20,000 tonnes, and will be taken by the fleet of purpose-equipped tugs to capesize bulk carriers anchored 22 nautical miles (40 kilometres) off the Pilbara coast. The innovative design drastically reduced the amount of seabed dredging required for the loading berth at the port.

MinRes notes the transhippers are unique in Australia and form an integral part of Onslow Iron, which will unlock stranded iron ore deposits in the West Pilbara.

MinRes EGM marine Jeff Weber said the initial fleet of five – which will eventually grow to seven – is set to be the largest and most sophisticated transhipping operation in Australia.

“There is no other dedicated marine or resource company that has an Australian-flagged fleet as large as MinRes Marine. That’s quite extraordinary considering two years ago MinRes Marine didn’t even exist,” Mr Weber said.

“The first two transhippers have arrived at the Port of Ashburton, the third arrives mid-2024, the fourth by the end of this year and the fifth in early 2025. Those five vessels will get us to an annual capacity of 35 million tonnes per annum.” Construction and sea trials of the remaining transhippers will continue in a staged approach.

The project’s haulage, port and transhipper operations are fully enclosed to ensure dust-free transport of iron ore from the Ken’s Bore mine site, 150km east of Onslow, to the Port of Ashburton.