Direct shipping opens the Pilbara to shorter routes, new markets

Direct shipping opens the Pilbara to shorter routes, new markets

Getting goods from outside WA to the heart of the Pilbara has always been a logistics conundrum.

For bigger projects, dedicated ships have been used to transport large plant modules.

But for daily freight – mining spares, construction materials, tyres, and equipment – standard practice has, until recently, been to land the goods in the Port of Fremantle, or on the eastern seaboard, and then truck to site, adding time, cost and a small amount of schedule uncertainty to the delivery.

The advent of direct shipping (DS) services to the northwest is changing the game, connecting the Pilbara’s active mining and construction sector to shorter freight routes from Asia and beyond.

ANL pioneered DS services to Port Hedland, with its first delivery of containers, pipe and loose cargo in November 2020 on the vessel MV Darwin Trader. Since then, ANL has brought in nine more shipments, and Maersk delivered its first shipment of Bridgestone tyres to Port Hedland in January 2021.

ANL’s Business Development Manager Darryl Evans said ANL made the decision to begin DS services on a “build-it-and-they-will-come” premise.

“We made the commitment to connect Port Hedland direct to our Singapore Hub, providing access to hundreds of global ports, and followed up in February working with a regular connection into Dampier. Both connect to our global network of over 400 shipping ports,” Mr Evans said.

He said cargo on these vessels was varied, with inbound goods generally reflecting the industry operating in the region. To date, he said cargo came to the region from China, Southeast Asia, North America, Europe, the Middle East, as well as other key Australian ports.

To build confidence in DS services, the Pilbara Ports Authority made a range of improvements to biosecurity infrastructure across its northern ports late in 2019, including inspection, treatment and wash bay facilities.

“Direct shipping translates into lower costs for Pilbara businesses and consumers and benefits the State and the nation by generating more inbound and outbound freight opportunities,” PPA’s Landside Operations Manager Jon Giles said. “It also contributes to a reduction in road traffic, road maintenance costs, and noise pollution.”

Perhaps more significantly, DS services also offer potential for carbon reduction across the supply chain; each container is shipped direct to the Pilbara, rather than trucked from Fremantle, saving an estimated two tonnes of carbon emissions.

It seems PPA the investment has paid off, with Singapore-based Swire Shipping joining ANL, Maersk, and Bengal Tiger Lines in offering a DS service to Port Hedland.

Swire’s vessel MV Souni discharged its first DS cargo over the Hedland wharf in August – 30 containers of materials and equipment destined for mining and construction projects across the region.

Swire will operate two services based on a 20-day frequency, one using a dedicated vessel running between Singapore, Darwin and Port Hedland, and a second delivering containers out of Singapore into Dampier via a separate slot charter arrangement.

Stephen Westfield, Swire’s Commercial Manager of Mining and Resources, said the new service aimed to improve shipping in northwest Australia from a cost, sustainability, safety and community involvement perspective.

“These new direct connections enable customers to better plan their inventory and manage their supply chains,” he said.

The Port of Dampier is also expanding its DS options. As well as ANL’s service, Bengal Tiger Lines’ first direct ship cargoes arrived to the Karratha hub in February 2021 on the vessel MCP Graz. A Sea Swift service also imports and exports general cargo.