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Transport & Logistics

Increasing capacity at Australia’s largest bulk export port – a Port of Port Hedland case study

5 Feb 2020, by Amy Sarcevic

As demand for Australia’s iron ore and other minerals continues to grow, so too does the demand for shipping and port capabilities.

For the Port of Port Hedland – Australia’s largest bulk export hub – the recent prospect of an iron ore boom had the potential to be felt profoundly.

In the 2019 calendar year the port received 2,987 vessel visits, a growing number of which were “Very Large Ore Carriers” carrying more than 200,000 tonnes; and in 2018/19, its total annual throughput was 513.3 million tonnes of which 98.7 per cent was iron ore.

Given that the port has a 24-nautical mile uni-directional channel with a tidal range of up to 7.4 metres, this was a significant achievement.

In addition, the port’s tidal constraints limit high-tide departures to a 4 to 4.5 hours sailing window – allowing a maximum of eight capesise vessels to depart on a single tide.

These physical limitations have seen Pilbara Ports Authority (PPA) – which manages the Port of Port Hedland – turn to new technologies and innovative projects.

The success of this approach was seen in September 2019, when PPA announced that the modelled total port capacity had increased by 6.9 per cent, or 40 million tonnes per year.

“Ten years ago, our annual throughput at Port Hedland was less than 180 million tonnes. We’re now approaching 520 million tonnes this year. And the deepest draft to sail is 19.95m for a total of 270,006 tonnes,” said PPA’s General Manager Operations, John Finch.

One of the technologies used to achieve this level of throughput was a world-class Dynamic Under-Keel Clearance (DUKC) system, introduced to the port by OMC International in 1995.

The system offers a consistent and scientific approach to under-keel clearance management. In doing so, it dramatically improves port safety and efficiency.

Rather than the fixed or static, traditional method, OMC was the first company globally to use a multi-parameter algorithmic approach – taking data on waves and currents and scientifically models vessel motions within six planes of motion to provide a more accurate, real-time alternative.

“The system determines exactly how much under-keel clearance is needed for that particular day and for that particular ship,” said OMC Chief Executive, Peter O’Brien.

“It integrates real-time hydrographic and meteorological data, high density bathymetric data, real time AIS and advanced hydrodynamic and ship motion modelling directly into under keel clearance decision making. The latest iteration of the system, Series 5, provides a minimum of 90cm clearance at any stage of the channel transit.

“Knowing exactly how much allowance to leave under the vessel means vessels can sail much deeper than would be possible under traditional fixed rules. You can put more cargo onto your vessels too.

“By ensuring vessels don’t hit the bottom, the technology yields tremendous safety and port efficiency benefits,” he added.

Mr. Finch concluded, “Needless to say, it’s a significant level of growth without major physical changes to the fixed infrastructure. It has allowed us to continue growing port throughput and give users certainty about future growth capacity opportunities.”

As PPA continues to grow the Port of Port Hedlund, it is working on a number of other technologies and capital projects.

Presenting at the forthcoming IHMA Congress – 23-26 March 2020 in Hobart, Tasmania – Peter O’Brien and John Finch will talk more about these ongoing initiatives.
 
Learn more and register.

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