Novel nickel export solutions at Esperance Port
Merchant Shipping provides what is currently a unique service in Australia, shipping nickel concentrate in sealed containers for one of Australia's largest exporters of the product, Western Areas. ABHR spoke to the companies’ leaders about the operation.
Western Areas chief executive, Dan Lougher, described some of the challenges involved in nickel export. “The problem [with nickel] is once you start loading a ship, especially between December and March when there are onshore winds, there will be a constant smell.
“There are community complaints so during onshore winds, loading must stop. So then you pick up the demurrage costs of ships sitting at anchor when there has been a postponement of loading. Exporting in containers, you bypass all of that.
“Then it can go through town, go to the port and it gets stacked like a normal container and just put straight on a ship.”
Chris Dunphy, managing director of Merchant Shipping, explained that “The whole idea is the mine to market model. We organise everything from taking the empty container up to the mine, loading it with product, taking it to the port and delivering it to the end customer.”
Rather than tippling containers of concentrate into bulk carriers at port, Merchant loads ships with laden containers of nickel concentrate for transport to Jinchuan Group, in China.
In the past, Western Areas, like the West’s other sulphide nickel miners, sold concentrate to BHP Billiton for blending with lower-grade Mt Keith and Leinster ores at the Kalgoorlie nickel smelter.
According to Dunphy, shipping in containers is particularly suited to low volume, high value exporters. He said the method delivers the same environmental benefits and low start-up costs with more flexibility than tippling containers to bulk load a vessel.
“When you take all of the real estate and attendant storage costs in to account, putting it in a half-height is a far more effective way to go. You are getting your cash flow a lot easier and earlier, because you are shipping it in smaller quantities. And the environmental side gets a big tick.”