Saldanha Bay’s Huge Export Success & expansion plans.
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Saldanha Bay's Huge Export Success & expansion plans.

A remarkable transport/engineering feat is happening on the Sishen/Saldanha iron ore export effort which now literally has wheels in motion for far-reaching results, especially so for Saldanha’s ore export project.

Last month Transnet Freight Rail (TFR) confirmed that it had earmarked R25 billion to increase the capacity of the iron ore line to export 82 million tons a year in the next seven years.

TFR has a target of moving close 60 million tons on the line in this financial year, a hefty increase from the 52 million tons achieved in the previous financial year, ending March 2011. In the 2010 financial year the port loaded 44 million tons of iron ore, almost 80% of it for Far East markets, more notably China.

The line has a current capacity of 33 loaded trains a week but this will be increased to 40 a week as from September. Each train has 342 wagons, driven by eight locomotives over the distance of almost 1 000 km. It seems that TFR’s plan is to create capacity ahead of demand.

The need for Transnet Freight Rail to run more or longer trains arose from having to meet the higher tonnages and ramp-up requirements that resulted from substantially increased output by the two major opencast mining operations producing the ore – Kumba Iron Ore’s Sishen Mine and Assmang’s Khumani Mine.

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 R7 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.

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 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, for example, 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.

Transnet last year also commissioned a new multimillion rand plant to provide the extra water resources required to control red iron ore dust at the bulk terminal, which is located within a water scarce area.

The R70 million reverse osmosis (RO) plant supplements potable water already being obtained from the West Coast District Municipality (WCDM) of the Western Cape, where most water is pumped from surrounding dams.

Around 36 000 kilolitres of water is required each month to spray iron ore stockpiles once a week and transfer points daily in the terminal using sprinkler cannon systems. This helps contain the dust which is inclined to blow excessively to areas outside the terminal.

The RO process pumps water from beach wells and naturally pre-filters or desalinates it to remove salt and solids. This reduces the need for separate pre-filtration units.

Fresh water is then pumped out to a buffer storage tank at high pressure through to the RO membranes.

The desalinated water is piped to the potable water tank where it can be used for dust control, while the concentrated sea water (brine) is released back into the ocean through beach wells or outfall pipes.

There is no negative environmental impact in the operation and after filtration the water complies with drinking water standards, it is claimed.

The plant consists of two RO modules each with a capacity of 1 200kl/module/day. This will meet the 36 000kl/month requirement and the existing water allocation from the municipality can then be used to spray more often.

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