By Jeb Blount and Marta Nogueira
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Brazil’s Vale SA said on Thursday a court ordered the temporary suspension of activities at its Port of Tubarão, halting the world’s largest iron ore exporter’s ability to ship more than a third of its output because of environmental concerns.
As a result of the order, imports and exports at one of Latin America’s biggest and most important ports have been paralyzed. Located just outside Vitoria, Brazil, its docks loaded 82.5 million tonnes of iron ore destined for steelmakers around the world in the first nine months of 2015, Vale said.
In addition to iron ore, Tubarão handles coal imports and steel exports for the Brazilian unit of ArcelorMittal SA, the world’s largest steelmaker. ArcelorMittall said the operation of the port was Vale’s responsibility.
The shutdown was ordered because of alleged pollution of air and water by coal, iron ore and other port activities and comes as Vale is under increasing pressure over environmental issues.
Vale already faces a 20 billion real ($4.89 billion) lawsuit over a deadly October breach of an iron ore tailings dam at Samarco Mineração SA, Vale’s 50-50 joint iron ore venture with Australia’s BHP Billiton Ltd.
Vale said in a statement that it will take all judicial measures necessary to guarantee the reopening of the port. It said the closure will have serious economic impact on Espirito Santo state, where Tubarão is located, and to Minas Gerais, the state where iron ore exported at Tubarão is mined.
Vale has had a long and torturous relationship with the government and environmentalists in Vitoria. Since it opened in 1966, many have complained of dust and other air pollutants coming from the giant man-made port, which also houses a steel mill, iron ore pellet plants and giant iron ore storage patios.
($1 = 4.15 Brazilian reais) (Reporting by Jeb Blount and Marta Nogueira; Additional reporting by Alberto Alerigi in Sao Paulo; Editing by David Gregorio and Bill Trott)
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