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SYDNEY, Dec 27 (Reuters) – A cyclone brewing off of western Australia could disrupt shipments from three of the world’s largest iron ore ports by early next week, data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued on Friday showed.
A tropical low in the Indian Ocean was on a southwesterly trajectory and forecast to reach Category 3 strength – meaning wind gusts up to 224 kilometers per hour – as it approaches Port Hedland early on Monday, according to the bureau.
A spokeswoman for Port Hedland, which handles about a fifth of the global seaborne market, said the course of the storm was being monitored at this stage. Emergency authorities were warning residents living in the sparsely-populated forecast path of the cyclone to remain alert.
Last February, Cyclone Rusty, packing winds up to 200 km per hour, closed Cape Lambert and Dampier ports – used by Rio Tinto , as well as Port Hedland – used by BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals.
The three ports handle more than 500 million tonnes of iron ore annually, accounting for almost all of Australia’s exports.
“Operations are continuing and we are closely monitoring the situation,” a Rio Tinto spokesman said.
Iron ore exports from Port Hedland were 28.1 million tonnes in November, just off October’s all-time peak of 29.0 million and 29 percent higher than in November last year.
The majority of the ore is shipped under contract to steel mills in China.
Australia can expect an average cyclone season running from Nov.1 to April 30, with up to 11 storms, according to forecasters.
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