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THE queue of ships waiting to load at the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal near Mackay has been growing again as some producers struggle to meet shipment schedules despite an apparent lack of port or rail constraints on them.
The irony in the situation is sweet, as six months ago it was the coal producers blaming the port for export bottlenecks. Now it is some of these very miners who cannot keep up with demand.
According to Maritime Safety Queensland information, there were 26 bulk carriers berthed or moving in and out of the DBCT and adjacent BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance terminals at Hay Point yesterday – at least 20 of which were waiting to load at DBCT.
This is well above the limit being targeted under an interim queue management system implemented in July to avoid the sort of congestion earlier this year when the conga line of bulk carriers off Hay Point peaked at 54.
AngloCoal executive Neville Sneddon, who chairs the miner-owned company that runs DBCT, said the queue was operating in two segments as roughly 10 of the vessels waited for coal to arrive at the terminal.
"There have been a few ships waiting for cargo, which is a bit unusual," he said.
The problem was partly related to dual coal shipments being held up by production interruptions at Peabody Energy Australia's North Goonyella underground coking coal mine and Xstrata's Oaky Creek operations.
An Xstrata Coal spokeswoman yesterday confirmed that at least three vessels, including an imminent arrival and one carrying a dual shipment, had been waiting on coking coal from Oaky Creek.
However, "things are back to normal", she said.
Peabody Energy Australia's managing director Ian Craig said the company had encountered problems from a longwall move.
DBCT has in-loaded coal at rates of more than 54 million tonnes a year in bursts and outloaded at rates approaching 60 million tonnes, although Mr Sneddon said year-to-date figures had been running closer to 55 million tonnes in and out of the port.
Less than a year ago Queensland coal miners were lamenting DBCT's lack of additional throughput.
Macarthur Coal development manager Shane Stephan said the loading of some shipments of the company's PCI coal had been affected by delays involving vessels waiting on sister cargoes from other suppliers – creating stockpile and production headaches.
As for the 2006 pricing outlook, Mr Stephan said the "propaganda season" had started about a month earlier than usual ahead of next month's Carbon Forum.
Japan's influential Tex Report was already arguing on behalf of Japanese steel mills for a pull-back in prices.
While leading indicators like recent domestic settlements in the US appeared neutral or positive for prices, Mr Stephan said the price of seaborne coke had recently plunged from about $US240 to $US180 a tonne as the Chinese had cranked up export production.
The Courier Mail
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