Two purpose-built transhippers have arrived at Mineral Resources’ (MinRes) Onslow Iron project in Western Australia, marking a major step towards first shipment. 

MinRes transhippers are unique in Australia and form an integral part of Onslow Iron, which will unlock stranded iron ore deposits in the West Pilbara and deliver first ore on ship in mid-2024.

After successful sea trials off Zhoushan port in China, MinRes Airlie and MinRes Coolibah were transported via a Cosco Shipping heavy lift vessel to the Pilbara coast.

In an intricate marine operation, the specialised vessel Xin Guang Hua was partially submerged to lift the transhippers – which are 123m long and 36m wide – out of the water and secure them for the voyage.

On arrival at the Port of Dampier in the Pilbara, the transhippers were unloaded from the heavy lift vessel, towed to anchorage and linked to a pair of tugs: MinRes Thor and MinRes Odin.

When locked together, the transhipper barge and tug will operate as one vessel to transport iron ore from the Port of Ashburton to Capesize bulk carriers anchored 40km offshore.

MinRes Executive General Manager Marine, Jeff Weber, said that the initial fleet of five – which will eventually grow to seven – is set to be the largest and most sophisticated transhipping operation in Australia.

“There is no other dedicated marine or resource company that has an Australian-flagged fleet as large as MinRes Marine. That’s quite extraordinary considering two years ago MinRes Marine didn’t even exist,” Mr Weber said.

“The first two transhippers have arrived at the Port of Ashburton, the third arrives mid-2024, the fourth by the end of this year and the fifth in early 2025. Those five vessels will get us to an annual capacity of 35 million tonnes per annum.”

MinRes transhippers have a shallow seven metre draft when loaded with 20,000t, which avoids the need to construct a deep-water port and greatly reduces the project’s environmental footprint.

The project’s haulage, port and transhipper operations are fully enclosed to ensure dust-free transport of iron ore from the Ken’s Bore mine site, 150km east of Onslow, to the Port of Ashburton.

MinRes Airlie and MinRes Coolibah will undergo commissioning at the Port of Ashburton ahead of first ore on ship in mid-2024. Construction and sea trials of the remaining transhippers will continue in a staged approach.

Featured image: The MinRes Transhippers aboard the Cosco Shipping heavy lift vessel. Image credit: Mineral Resources.

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