Coal Loading Backup Affects All

Over a month after severe weather damaged coal loading operations for Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) and the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Logistics Team (HVCCLT) in Newcastle, colliers and Newcastle locals alike are still being affected. Ships have been lining up for weeks to get into Newcastle’s coal loaders and their crews have been kept offshore all that time. Though this is an unfortunate and uncomfortable situation for crewmembers, many Newcastle natives are concerned about the waiting ships’ effects on the local environment -- since the backup began, more litter, such as soy sauce packets, food wrappers, magazines, etc., has washed up onshore than normally does at this time of year.

Storms and flooding in Hunter Valley in the beginning of June washed away railroad tracks necessary to HVCCLT operations. These damages caused the coal chain to be shut down for a full week while repairs were made. It took another week after that for operations to return to full capacity. A June 13 PWCS press release states, “Current estimates are that in excess of 2 million tonnes of coal throughput will be lost. This loss of Hunter Valley Coal Chain capacity will have a significant queuing impact.”

And it certainly has -- though coal loading operations were postponed, colliers continued to arrive to access the coal loader base, the world’s largest, in Newcastle Harbour. Last week alone, on July 12, a reported 66 ships were waiting outside the Port of Newcastle while another 12 were being loaded within it. According to a PWCS press release, “On average PCWS loads 3 vessels per day.” This explains why queued vessels have to wait over a month each to finally load their cargo, with their approximate individual 20 to 30-member crews idling at sea during all that time.

It is these confined crews that have Newcastle inhabitants worried about the vessel queue’s effect on the local environment. Locals are concerned that crewmembers are not following maritime rules and are throwing their trash overboard. The increased amount of litter that has been washing up onshore since the backup began seems to support these fears. Many hope that the backup will soon be resolved so that no severe environmental damage occurs. However, prior to the storms and flooding PWCS had estimated that the vessel queue was “expected to fall to around 20 vessels by the end of July 2007,” but with the delays, “it is now expected that it will take until August / September 2007 for vessel queues to fall . . .”