The two largest coal export facilities in the Australian state of Queensland are on track to report multi-year shipping lows for May, with the other two major ports in the state also tracking behind average, driven by weaker demand.

The 102mn t/yr capacity Gladstone port and 85mn t/yr Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal (DBCT) are each on track to ship less than 4mn t in May, according to initial shipping data. This compares with averages of 6mn t/month and 5.6mn t/month, respectively, in 2019, as demand falls on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Current projections for May suggest that DBCT will ship the least in a month since April 2017 when Cyclone Debbie cut rail deliveries to the port for most of the month. It would be the least that Gladstone shipped since February 2013 when Cyclone Oswald cut rail access to the port.

The weather has not been a major problem in May, with fairly average rainfall and only a couple of days of strong winds, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. Gladstone has not shipped anything from its Clinton Coal 3 berth since 17 May and DBCT has not shipped anything from its Berth 2 since 2 May, which goes some way to explaining the lull in exports. But it is mostly demand driven, with ship queues at Queensland ports falling below average for most of May and the Covid-19 slowdown forcing mining firms to scale back production.

The 85mn t/yr capacity DBCT loaded vessels with a deadweight tonnage (dwt) capacity of 3.17mn dwt in the first 25 days in May, which implies an annualised rate of around 46.3mn dwt/yr, down from 75.3mn dwt/yr in May 2019 and for the whole of 2019. It is also down from 64.2mn dwt/yr in April and continues the port's run of below 2019-average performance for every month this year. The 102mn t/yr Gladstone port and 50mn t/yr Abbot Point have had a stronger start to 2020 than DBCT, but both have experienced an extremely slow May. Hay Point, which is operated by the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance, is having a slightly better May, but is still operating below its 2019 average, despite completing a spell of maintenance that depressed shipments earlier this year.

There may be an opportunity for exports to increase in the final few days of May, with the size of the vessel queues off all Queensland ports rising slightly over the past fortnight. The queue outside the neighbouring ports of Hay Point and DBCT rose to 34 vessels today from 29 on 16 May but was still down from 55 on 23 March. The queue at Gladstone has rebounded to eight from six but is still down from 25 vessels on 23 March.

By Jo Clarke

Queensland coal loadings by portmn dwt/yr
PortMay-192019Apr-201-25 May 2020
Hay Point64.354.849.847.9
Source: Initial shipping data
All figures are converted to an annualised rate and overestimate loadings by around 5pc
Source: Argus