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Tue, Jun 12th - 2:48AM

Bhp Billiton Australian coal exports from Newcastle port disrupted by storm damage

SYDNEY (XFN-ASIA) - Coal exports from the port of Newcastle on Australia's
east coast have been disrupted by damage caused by severe storms last week,
including disruptions to the rail connection with the Hunter Valley coal mining
district, port services operators and miners said said.
    Port Waratah Coal Services, which runs coal loading operations, said trains
from mines in the Hunter Valley have not been able to make deliveries due to
track damage. The earliest estimate for resumed rail operations is Friday.
    A spokeswoman for mining group
BHP Billiton said the company has declared
force majeure on thermal coal shipments shipped out of Newcastle from the Hunter
Valley.
    "We have declared force majeure as a result of the weather," she said.
    She gave no details on the possible impact on production but added the group
is hoping to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.
    BHP Billiton operates the Mount Arthur mine in the Hunter Valley which
produces 10 mln metric tons of thermal coal a year for export to
Asian
electricity generators. 
   
Rio Tinto's 75 pct owned Coal & Allied Industries Ltd said at this stage it
is unable to assess the impact of the storm and subsequent damage on the three
mines it operates in the Hunter Valley.
    "As is the case after any significant rainfall, water is being pumped from
the mines to existing large water storage dams on Coal & Allied property," a
spokesperson said.
    Coal & Allied operates three mines in the Hunter Valley - Mount
Thorley/Warkworth, Bengalla and Hunter Valley Operations - which last year
produced a combined 25 mln tons of mainly thermal coal for export to Asia.
    Last month Coal & Allied announced it was cutting coal production at the
three mines by 20 pct this year due to congestion at Newcastle.
    The other major coal producer in the Hunter Valley, London-listed
Xstrata
Plc unit  Xstrata Coal, was not available for comment.
    Its Hunter Valley mines produce about 10 mln tons of coal a year.
    On Friday, the 225-meter long bulk coal carrier Pasha Bulker was washed onto
a sandbank at Newcastle after it was ripped from its moorings by heavy seas.
    It had been waiting to load 58,000 tons of  Coal & Allied coal for delivery
to Japanese power utilities.
    A salvage crew is hoping to refloat the vessel but it is still not clear
whether a salvage operation will be successful.   


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