Fortescue Metals Group has taken the next step in its bid to challenge BHP Billiton’s domination of towage services at Port Hedland, ordering six tugboats, to be built at a Vietnamese shipyard.

Dutch multinational Damen Shipyards won the order for the six tugs, and said recently it expected to deliver the first vessel by late next year, with the rest to follow early the following year.

Fortescue won its bid to challenge BHP’s long-standing monopoly on towage services at Port Hedland in mid 2016, when the Pilbara Ports Authority handed the company a licence for towage services at the world’s busiest bulk-handling port.

The decision triggered an investment of about $280 million by Fortescue, which is building a harbour behind its existing Anderson Point loading berths for an initial fleet of nine tugboats. Six will come from Damen, and the company is still mulling its options to fund and acquire the remaining vessels.

Fortescue Chief Executive Nev Power confirmed the order had been placed. “We are also exploring options to hire or lease an additional three tugs,” he said.

Image: North West Telegraph