A solution on the sea

A shipping vessel currently under development could hold the key to overcoming the expansion challenges at the bustling Port Hedland Port – with limited capital investment.
 
Transmax is a self-loading and unloading transshipment vessel for shallow draft ports that is being developed and rolled out as part of a partnership between National Ports and thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions.

Each vessel is capable of carrying 190,000 deadweight tonnes of material on a 14m draft, allowing it to transit ports with limited water depth, and capable of safely self- unloading cargo at a rate of 10,000 tonnes per hour into any size bulk carrier or directly at the destination port.

Transmax is billed by its developers as the solution to the capacity challenges facing Port Hedland Port, where the inner harbour and channel have a draft of 14.3m at low tide.
 
The average vessel loading iron ore at Port Hedland has a deadweight of 180,000 tonnes on an 18.2m draft, meaning laden capsize bulk carriers can only depart the inner harbour at high tide.

The current program for shipping involves five to eight capsize vessels leaving the inner harbour in a convoy when the tide is high.

In 2015/16 more than 460 million tonnes of throughput was processed through Port Hedland Port, ranking it the world’s biggest port by tonnage.

However, maximum throughput capacity of 577 million tonnes per annum at the port is expected to be met in around three years, and the Pilbara Ports Authority doesn’t have a solution for expanding capacity past this level.

Building major infrastructure via conventional means to expand the capacity of the port would be cost and time intensive, with a lead time of as much as 10 years before being fully operational, according to National Ports.

Using Transmax as a shuttle service, companies will be able to bypass the challenges of low tide by mooring and loading their bulk carriers 25 nautical miles from the loading berth.

This will also allow for bulk carriers to be fully loaded, removing the need for costly short loads.

Two Transmax vessels would be dedicated on rotation at each berth, with a cycle to continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Transmax’s ability to carry bulk tonnes on a 14m draft make it a potential solution to the challenges at Port Hedland and ports around the world, according to National Ports Managing Director Marco Lucido.

“Our new system will open up access to shallow loading and destination ports worldwide, including those affected by large tides,” he said.

“The system will not only be able to significantly increase the cargo throughput for existing mining companies with limited draft, but it can also help to make new mining companies economically viable.”

One of the greatest benefits of the technology is its?capital requirement. In contrast with further dredging at ports, which is a costly, time intensive and sometimes environmentally contentious process, Transmax can be introduced without a substantial upfront capital cost – mine and port operators can charter the system on a per tonne basis.

thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions Mining and Technologies Business Unit Senior Executive Franz-Maria Wolpers said the technology had the potential to serve as a game-changer for the industry.

“We are delighted to be helping our clients to solve one of the most complex challenges they face when operating in shallow, restricted and remote ports,” Dr Wolpers said.

“In addition to opening up access to those ports, the new system dramatically increases the rate of self-unloading into any type of bulk carrier or to the port of destination through a thyssenkrupp materials handling system.

“In cooperation with National Ports, we are thus offering mining companies and port operators worldwide significant improvements in operational efficiency including materials handling speed at lower costs and reduced environmental risk.”

The super shallow draft bulk carrier is technically based on a conventional bulk carrier, supplemented by sponsons attached to each side to provide additional flotation, enabling the vessel to operate fully loaded in very shallow waters.
 
Port Hedland Port is operated by the Pilbara Ports Authority.

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