Expansion plans for Saldanha Bay port on the West Coast
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Expansion plans for Saldanha Bay port on the West Coast

A remarkable transport/engineering feat happened during last year’s Christmas season – on 27 December – at the Sishen railway station. It literally set the wheels in motion for far-reaching results, especially so for Saldanha’s iron ore export effort.

On that day the last of ten trains left the Northern Cape’s iron export station for Saldanha, almost 1 000 km to the south. Its successful departure would determine whether the iron ore team could claim victory by reaching the one million ton per week throughput mark. And so it did, to much jubilation amongst the teams involved.

There was purpose to this exercise – to push iron ore exports, through the Port of Saldanha, at a rate of 60 million tons a year on a continuous basis by the end of this year. SA Port Operations is under continual pressure from the Northern Cape mining operations, especially Kumba and Assmang, to increase export capacity.

During a visit to the bulk terminal in Saldanha, chief executive Karl Socikwa last month told CBN the third phase (1C) of the terminal expansion plan is now in full swing, with the aim to lift export capacity to 60 million tons per annum. This comes in at a cost of R630 million, all earmarked to improve the infrastructure at the port.

During the past financial year, ending March 2010, the port loaded a record of 44 million tons of iron ore, almost 70% of it for Far East markets, more notably China.

During 2004 Terminal Expansion Phase 1A was completed, at a cost of R950 million, lifting capacity from 28 mtpa to 36 million tons per annum. Last year Terminal Expansion Phase 1B was completed, expanding capacity to 47 mtpa.

The current ramp-up of the corridor to 60 mtpa is reliant on the channel achieving certain milestones within certain pre-defined time frames.

One of these critical milestones was for the channel to move from an average of 920 000 tons per week to around a million tons per week in the first quarter of 2010. Breaking through this psychological barrier early was necessary to set the tone for this year. Now it’s all about sustainability at these levels.

The bulk terminal at the Port of Saldanha, which is the last link in the iron ore corridor supply chain is where all the action happens in terms of offloading, stacking and stockpiling, reclaiming and loading the ore onto bulk carrier ships.

It is estimated that well in excess of R5 billion has so far been spent to increase iron ore exports from the deep-water port to meet the growing demand for South Africa’s high-quality iron ore. Although volumes have been down of recent months, all seems set to sustain the one million ton target to create capacity ahead of demand.

Currently the infrastructure at the port comprises two rotary tipplers, four stacker reclaimers, two shiploaders and 25 conveying systems, providing the terminal with a capacity to off-load 10 000 tons per hour onto a ship.

But much money will still be spent on to expand infrastructure as the port is gearing up to increase capacity to more than 80 million tons per annum in the not too distant future.

Environmental impact studies are needed for the establishment of new infrastructure on some 141 hectares of land. This part of the proposed project could have the biggest impact on the sensitive environment of the bay and lagoon.

The plan is to reclaim an additional 50 hectares of land within Saldanha Bay. This will be done by dredger. The shipping channel will be deepened and the material recovered will be used for the construction of new shipping berths.

Another footprint area which could be impacted, is 35 hectares of land in the undisturbed dune area on the coast between the iron ore quay and the Saldanha Mittal Steel Plant. The intention is also to fill in the so called ‘Oyster Dam’ to create more space for stockpiling iron ore within the confines of Saldanha Bay.

The size of trains and the number of ships calling at Saldanha’s port will also increase when the facilities are enlarged to handle more iron ore. Ships calling at the port of Saldanha will also increase in size and number. Two ships a week, being about a hundred a year, called at Saldanha in 2007 to load iron ore. Even though bigger ships will be loading, it’s anticipated that shipping volume will now increase to more than 200 vessels a year.

Source cbn.co.za

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