The resurgence in coal prices has flowed down the Hunter to help create a trade record for the Port of Newcastle.
In 2016, the port handled more than 167.7 million tonnes, an increase of about 3.8 million tonnes from 2015. The trade value totalled $18.69 billion.
Port of Newcastle’s Chief Executive Officer, Geoff Crowe, said the figures were “a good outcome”.
“I’m happy for the Hunter, for the port users, and for the port customers,” Mr Crowe said, adding while he had anticipated beating the previous year’s tonnage, the growth was “probably slightly better than I’d expected”.
Coal has remained the powerhouse for the port, representing 96 per cent of the total trade in 2016. Coal exports jumped by 2.2 per cent to a new record of just under 161.4 million tonnes. In 2015, the port recorded 158 million tonnes in coal exports. The 2016 trade value of coal alone was almost $15.28 billion.
The strong 2016 figures saw the year end on a high, with a new monthly record for coal exports of 15.94 million tonnes in December.
Hennie du Plooy, the CEO of Port Waratah Coal Services, the operator of two of the port’s three coal loaders, said the export figures indicated that stronger coal prices “have encouraged producers to make the most of the available market.”
The company’s terminals loaded more than 109 million tonnes last year. Mr du Plooy envisaged a growth of two to three per cent this year, but that would still be well within the capacity of the company’s facilities, which was about 145 million tonnes per annum.
The port also saw a large increase in wheat exports in 2016. Almost 761,000 tonnes, worth $155 million, were exported in 2016, a jump of 467,000 tonnes on the previous year. Other grains and meals exported from the port amounted to 235,415 tonnes.
Mr Crowe said he was particularly pleased to see the increase in non-coal trade, as it emphasised the port’s diversification. The port handled 25 cargoes, which, because of coal’s dominance, was often understated, he said. And with grain farmers having another good season, Mr Crowe believed that would flow into the tonnages handled by the port this year.
NSW Farmers’ Cropping and Horticulture Policy Director Robert Hardie said through increased investment in infrastructure, ports across the state could play an increasingly important role in grains exports.
Mr Crowe said based on trade volume, Newcastle’s port was the third largest in Australia and 24th in the world. While 2,258 ships visited the port in 2016, Mr Crowe said there was the capacity to more than double that figure.