NEWCASTLE exported coal worth an estimated $24 billion last year, with interim figures showing shipments dipping by less than half a percentage point on 2017.
Amid a growing global clamour over the burning of coal for power, the fuel remains a major source of energy for electricity generation, and is far and away the biggest commodity shipped each year through the Port of Newcastle.
In trade figures for December published this week by the port, coal shipments for the year were put at 158.6 million tonnes, a fall of 400,000 tonnes on the 159 million tonnes exported in 2017.
Newcastle coal exports peaked in 2016, at 161.4 million tonnes.
Using price estimates provided by various federal government trade agencies, the port estimated the value of Newcastle coal exports at $23.6 billion, well up on the $19.4 billion estimate in 2017.
The higher value reflects the stronger prices for coal that prevailed throughout the year, and the lower Australian dollar, which increases the return in domestic currency on a commodity traded in US dollars.
The $23.6 billion figure also highlights the importance of coal to the port, with non-coal trade for the year valued at just $2.4 billion.
Separate figures compiled by the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator, which guides the movement of coal from the mines to the port, show that 159.3 million tonnes of coal were railed to Newcastle in 2018, a 600,000-tonne fall on the 2017 figure of 159.9 million tonnes.
Port and coal chain coordinator figures show that 1769 coal ships visited Newcastle during 2018, with 949 tying up at Port Waratah Coal Service’s Kooragang terminal, 279 at the company’s Carrington terminal, and 541 at Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group’s Kooragang terminal.
The 1769 coal ships arriving in 2018 was a slight increase on the 1757 recorded the previous year.
Port Waratah chief executive Hennie du Ploy said coal volumes were expected to rise this year.
In non-coal trade, the Port of Newcastle said wheat exports were down by 79 per cent, while grain and meal exports were down by 67 per cent, both as a result of the drought, which also resulted in grain being shipped into Newcastle from Western Australia.
Wheat exports totalled just 379,118 tonnes, compared with the 1.83 million tonnes – a 20-year record – shipped out in 2017.
The port recorded 13 cruise ship visits in 2018, compared with six in 2017 and nine in 2016.
Cement imports rose 11 per cent to 278,000 tonnes, which the port said reflected Newcastle’s building boom.