Cyclone off Australia halts world shipments of iron ore

Nearly half the world's iron ore trade came to a halt Tuesday as a tropical storm off Australia's northwest coast closed shipping down for miners Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, reports Reuters.

Ports at Cape Lambert, Dampier and Port Hedland ceased activity in the evening as the storm worsened in the Indian Ocean, chasing ships to moor in calmer locations.

Rio Tinto shut down at Dampier and Cape Lambert, through which it sends out annually more than 200 million tonnes of iron ore — a fifth of the global trade.

BHP Billiton, along with Fortescue Metals Group and Atlas Iron, use Port Hedland to ship more than 200 million tonnes of ore per year. Total iron ore shipments from the port in December reached a monthly record of 26 million tonnes.

Iron ore prices have gained support as supplies are expected to be reduced during Australia's cyclone season, which runs November through April. Steel mills in China, Japan and South Korea are the major buyers for the Australian raw materials.

Offshore oil and gas producers also battened down for the approaching cyclone, with Apache Energy closing its Stag and Van Gogh fields that were on the storm's route.

Image: Shutterstock / lafoto