Cyclone damage causes BHP to declare force majeure in Australia

World’s largest miner BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP) said on Wednesday it won't meet its coal export commitments due to the damage caused by a cyclone that struck Australia’s north-east coast last week.

Damage to rail lines in cyclone-hit Queensland have disrupted the shipment of between 15 million and 20 million tonnes of coking coal destined to Asia.

The company, which is also the world's biggest shipper of steelmaking coal, said force majeure has been declared for all coal products from its joint ventures with Mitsubishi Corp. and Mitsui & Co.

"BHP Billiton continues to assess haulage options to manage access from mine sites to ports and shipments to customers," it said in the statement.

Aurizon Holdings, Australia's top rail freight operator, was forced to close some key routes between inland mines and export terminals to repair the damage caused by cyclone Debbie. Earlier this week, Aurizon said it could take more than a month to get some of those critical lines running again.

Queensland accounts for more than 50%of global seaborne coking coal supplies, so problems in the area have caused prices to climb about 9% on expectations that supply will remain disrupted for weeks. Analysts at Standard & Poor estimated this could mean between 15 million and 20 million tonnes of coking coal supply could be eliminated from global markets.