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Massive new port could give Vale back iron ore crown

Ultra-large Valemax ships (Image courtesy of Vale SA)

Global production of iron ore products reached 2.2 billion tonnes in 2020 and is expected to reach 2.35 billion tonnes in 2021, according to Fastmarkets.

Despite the covid-19 pandemic, Chinese demand and Brazilian supply constraints have propelled iron ore prices to decade-highs above $175 a tonne this quarter.

Global total exports amounted 1,170 million tonnes in 2020, 9.3% higher than in 2019. Total China imports exceeded 73% of the world total shipped.

As China shut down many small and low-quality iron ore mines and continues to raise its bar on ore quality to match its environmental standards, Brazil, Australia, and India will be major sources of the net increase in production, Fastmarkets reports.

A project for a dedicated iron ore port with a capacity of up to 560 million tonnes per year is advancing in the north of Brazil

Vale is still looking to return to a capacity of 400 million tonnes, which would see it regain the title of world’s biggest producer that it lost to Rio Tinto in the wake of the Brumadinho dam disaster two years ago, but shipment is still an issue.

Brazilian shipments decreased 8% in February, following heavy rain in the north of the country.

“High rain volumes at major ports will continue to represent a challenge for Brazilian players during 1Q. So far, Brazil is running below guidance,” XP investments said in a note.

In January, a fire hit pier 4S shiploader at Ponta da Madeira – one of the most important iron ore and manganese loading terminals in the world, shipping point for Vale’s high-grade Iron Ore Carajas  – and repair could impact the company’s shipment capacity.

Meanwhile, a project for a dedicated iron ore port with a capacity of up to 560 million tonnes per year (more than double Ponta da Madeira) is advancing in the north of Brazil.

Expansion

The Alcântara Port Terminal (TPA) project in Maranhão awaits the Brazilian government’s authorization to start an environmental and social impacts study.

According to Paulo Salvador, executive director of the developer Grão-Pará Multimodal, construction is expected to start in June 2022, with operations set to begin in 2025.

The project cost is estimated at $772 million and includes the construction of a new rail link to the Carajás railway (EFC), currently the connection between Vale Carajás – the world’s largest iron ore mine – and Ponta da Madeira.

The project includes a new rail link to the Carajás railway (EFC) – Credit: Grão-Pará Multimodal

“Vale’s ore will be able to transit exclusively on this new railroad, a backup of Ponta da Madeira that may allow Vale to recover goals, and fulfill its expansion plan,” said Salvador in a statement. “A series of mining companies that have been trying to start projects in the North of Brazil will also benefit.”

Jose Carlos Martins, Vale’s former ferrous director is one of Grao-Para Multimodal consultants.

The seafront has the capacity to install up to 8 berths with 405 meters
each and 25 meters of minimum draft regardless of the tide, all of them
capable of receiving ships up to 450,000 tonnes – including the ultra-large Valemax ships.

A study by the University of Maranhão concluded that TPA would represent an average increase of 20% in the state GDP between 2024-2048.

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