Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Abbot Point Unmasked

The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation describe The Abbot Point Coal Terminal in the following terms:

"Situated about 25 kilometres north of Bowen, the Port of Abbot Point is Australia's most northerly coal port. The Abbot Point Coal Terminal comprises a rail in-loading facility, coal handling and stockpile areas, and a single trestle jetty and conveyor connected to a berth and shiploader, located 2.75km off-shore. The terminal is being expanded with the addition of a second wharf and shiploader as well as an additional onshore stockyard and machines.

Coal is supplied to Abbot Point by rail from Newlands, Collinsville and Sonoma mines. In addition, small quantities of coal may be brought north on the coastal rail line from the Goonyella system for export. The port terminal is operated by Abbot Point Bulk Coal Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of Xstrata Coal Queensland Pty Ltd.

The port is serviced by two tugs, which are based in Bowen, and pilotage is provided by Maritime Safety Queensland. NQBP is the port authority for the port, and has three staff based in Bowen who are responsible for maintaining the Bowen wharves and providing assistance at other NQBP ports.

The Port of Abbot Point is of significant strategic value to NQBP and the State, as there are very few locations along Queensland's eastern seaboard where deep water (>15m) is so close in-shore. NQBP is considering the potential for development of a breakwater protected harbour to provide additional sheltered berths.

The coal terminal at Abbot Point, which is owned by PCQ and operated by Abbot Point Bulk Coal Pty Ltd, is currently undergoing significant expansion works."

Of course, the little bit that is not clearly revealed is that Abbot Point is right smack bang in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef.

That's the Reef right there....the dark skinny bit to the right, and below  is the Terminal with the 2.5km wharf clearly visible.

You will note, on the map to the right, the wetlands just below the Terminal, and the long stretch of beach.  So, you may ask what this is about.......(just click)...........Chalco Proposal and Chalco Home.  Certainly, this proposal appears to be clear of the wetlands and beaches, but do you really think these will remain pristine?  What we don't know, however, is what has happened to this alumina refinery proposal!

On the other hand, what we do know is that the Abbot Point coal loading facility is to be expanded rapidly.  According to the Queensland Department of Transport, Abbot Point will be handling 50 million tonnes of coal by June 2011 - double the current 25 million tonnes - and possibly as much as 110 million tonnes in the not too distant future.

Now, I'm not going to get into an environmental discussion on the merits of coal mining (I am definitely not qualified to do that).  I just want you to think about one thing - the shipping.  When you climb into your fishing boat in MacKay, or pay to experience one of the many boating/diving/fishing tours and adventures along the Barrier Reef, spare a thought for the added experience of dodging a huge number of very large ships.  When you jump into the warm and inviting Reef waters, or catch a fish, consider the possibility of some of these vessels discharging waste, leaking oil or emptying their ballast tanks as they pass by.

How many ships? I hear you ask.  Well, the Pasha Bulka, which ran aground at Newcastle, appears to have a capacity of 58000 tonnes.  The Shen Neng 1, which drove itself onto the Reef near Keppel Island earlier this year, was reported to have a capacity of 65000 tonnes.  So if we assume an average capacity of 70000 tonnes, we end up with over 700 ships by June next year.  But wait, that is 700 ships in.  They also have to depart, making over 1400 movements of very large ships in a very small waterway.  If Abbot Point achieves its target of 110 million tonnes per year, we will have over 3000 ship movements every year.  Over 3000 ship movements, all in hurry, all under pressure to reduce, or at least, control costs.

Some may believe the crews of these vessels will "do the right thing" and, probably, most of them will.  However, the Shen Neng disaster was still fresh in our minds when the Japanese bulk carrier, Mimosa, decided to take a shortcut through restricted waters (just like the Shen Neng).  This incident was reported by a London based journalist, Jim Mulrenan, in the Norwegian on-line publication, TradeWinds.no.  It was dealt with by a Townsville magistrate.  We didn't hear about this close call, did we?

How many ships, choosing to take short cuts and, perhaps, sun-bake on top of the Reef, will it take to destroy it?  I thought the Great Barrier Reef was one of Australia's natural gems, to be closeted and nurtured.  Instead, it will just be another congested sea lane, in all probability ruined for future generations by coal ships, rather than climate change.  At least we won't need to solve that problem, the Reef won't be there!

Further reading:

No comments: