Darwin Port managers anticipate beef growth

Darwin Port chief executive officer Terry O’Connor on site.
Darwin Port chief executive officer Terry O’Connor on site.

MULTI-MILLION-DOLLAR investment at the world’s largest live cattle shipping port is paving the way for what it’s Chinese managers expect will be solid growth in the Northern Australian beef industry.

Rizhao-based Landbridge Group, which runs Darwin Port under a 99-year lease agreement with the Northern Territory Government, is pumping $25 million into setting the facility up for a very fast-paced future.

Upgrades including $11m in refrigeration facilities, which includes 250 points now in service and capacity to lift that to 2000, have been completed in the past year.

Doubling the length of the existing wharf area and additional land reclamation are the next steps, with construction expected to start within two years.

While the port handles a range of cargo, from bulk iron ore and furniture out of South East Asia to car carriers and tourists, beef is ‘very important to us’, according to chief executive officer Terry O’Connor.  

“We think there is growth in the live cattle industry to come and we are preparing for that,” he said.

The boxed beef export business, particularly with Australian Agriculture Company’s new nearby Livingstone processing plant now in full swing, was also looking at significant future growth, he said.

Loading live cattle at Darwin Port.

Loading live cattle at Darwin Port.

Numbers of live cattle shipped out of Darwin have peaked at 680,000 head a year, with around 300,000 to 450,000 the average.

They are currently tracking below average on account of the supply shortage, with around 250,000 head sent so far this financial year, along with 700 containers of boxed beef.

Eighty per cent of vessels go to Indonesia and the big ships load as many as 500 head an hour.

Darwin Port chief executive officer Terry O’Connor in harbour control.

Darwin Port chief executive officer Terry O’Connor in harbour control.

The port also now has a state-of-the-art harbour control centre, which uses radar and radio communications, and is the second of its type in the world.

The investment here was designed to facilitate a greater degree of safety and efficiency, Mr O’ Connor said.

The port also services the offshore oil and gas sector and while that had been a quiet area  for the past 18 months, port development general manager Peter Dummett said vessel numbers were now starting to increase with more exploration happening.

A good news story for Darwin was the Inpex project and floating Shell liquid natural gas (LNG) plant, he said.

A Shell Prelude supply base at the port provides support for the massive LNG plant, which comes into commission this year, located 826 kilometres offshore from Darwin.

The 500m long facility is the first of its kind and the largest floating structure in the world.

An Inpex offshore logistics facility at the port provides support for Inpex operations 900klm from Darwin.

Australia is on track to being the world’s largest LNG exporter, with forecasts of an 85m tonne capacity nationwide, a tenth of which will go via Darwin.

“This is a very busy port - it is the only multi modal (access to all sorts of transport) port between Townsville and Freemantle,” Mr Dummett said.

“We have a very large catchment area, albeit a low population base, and one of the challenges we have is looking after a very diverse range of sectors.”

The port is run with a strict ‘first come, first served’ policy of berth allocation but there were two areas where they might be over-ruled, he said.

One was animal welfare and the other was fuel tankers where priority would be given should Darwin be running short of fuel.