Protesters Halt Operations at Australian Coal Ports
The export of coal from Australia's largest coal terminals was disrupted on Thursday after protesters chained themselves to equipment, causing a temporary halt to some operations.
Activists, demanding that Australia commit to reducing its reliance on the coal industry, caused a disruption to the operations of Newcastle Port, the world's biggest thermal coal export terminal, and the Port of Brisbane and Port Kembla.
Australia's biggest coal companies, including BHP Billiton, Glencore, Rio Tinto and Peabody Energy Corp, and China's Yancoal Australia, rely on the port.
Operations at Newcastle port were halted for three hours after three protesters chained themselves to a conveyor, said a spokeswoman for 350.org, the climate activist organization behind the protest. The protesters at Newcastle Port were removed shortly after 8 a.m. local time (2100 GMT Wednesday).
Vanessa Wiebford, a Newcastle resident and mother locked onto a conveyor at the Newcastle port as part of a peaceful protest said, “In the lead up to Paris, eminent Australians joined the leaders of Pacific Island nations in calling on Australia to answer the call for a global moratorium on new coal mines. Australia has failed to respond to this call.”
She added: “Because Newcastle is home to the world’s largest coal port, our community lives with the immediate threats of having coal at our doorstep. The coal industry is responsible for leaving our residents choking on coal dust and diesel fumes every day while it exports global warming and health problems to the world.”
Newcastle port spokeswoman Lauren Eyles said operations were not disrupted by the action, which was now a police matter.
"Shipping movements have not been affected," Eyles said.
Newcastle handles more than 4,000 ship movements annually, more than 90 percent of them loaded with coal.
Several hours after the coordinated protest got underway, a single protester remained suspended from a cable attached to a rail line preventing coal from getting to the Port of Brisbane. Police were not immediately available for comment and it was unclear if attempts were underway to remove the protester.
Howevever, the Port of Brisbane said in a statement that disruptions would likely be limited.
"Main port operations are not affected, however we expect there will be some delays to rail operations," the statement said.
There were also no disruptions to shipping reported at Port Kembla.
Community members in Wollongong scaled two coal loaders and blocked truck access to the coal port at Port Kembla. Rada Germanos, who grew up in the Illawarra said, “We’re calling for a halt to new coal expansion, with a parallel effort to support job creation and re-skilling workers in sustainable industries.”
Australia, which relies on coal-fired power stations for electricity, has the world's highest carbon emissions per capita. Tens of thousands of workers are employed in collieries and whole towns rely on mines for their livelihood.
More than half the world's steel-making coal, worth A$40 billion ($28.9 billion) a year, comes from Australia.