Coal exports from Australia’s Gladstone port end 2017 on a high, volumes to China surge

Exports of coal from the Port of Gladstone in Queensland, Australia, ended 2017 on a high, registering the strongest monthly exports for the year in December, Gladstone Ports Corporation data showed Wednesday. It shipped 6.31 million mt of coal in December, down 11% year on year and up 17% month on month, the GPC data showed. The port’s exports typically comprise around 70% of metallurgical coal and 30% of thermal coal. Total exports from the port for full-year 2017 was 68.29 million mt, down 2% year on year. It’s the lowest yearly total since 2013, when 62.74 million mt was exported, the data showed.

Coal exports from the Port of Gladstone come via the RG Tanna terminal, which has a nameplate capacity of 60 million mt/year, and from the Wiggins Island terminal, which can handle 8 million mt/year. The port had been shipping coal of around 4.5 million mt/year from Barney Point until the terminal ceased operations in May 2016. “Australian metallurgical coal production is estimated to have declined modestly in 2017, largely as a result of the impact of Cyclone Debbie in the last days of March,” the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science said earlier this week in its Resources and Energy Quarterly. It estimated that total Australian metallurgical coal export volumes declined by 11 million-12 million mt, or 5%-6%, in 2017, to 177 million mt. The risk of weather impact on 2018 exports has also recently been heightened, following meteorologists declaration late 2017 of a La Nina weather event, the government department said in the report. “However, sea surface temperature patterns in the Indian Ocean and closer to Australia are not typical of a La Nina event, suggesting that it will be weaker than the strong La Nina episode of 2012, and thus there will be a reduced likelihood of widespread above-average summer rainfall,” it added.

The risks aside, Australian metallurgical coal production is expected to grow strongly in 2018 and 2019, as miners respond to high prices and the impact of some of the operational problems of 2017 fade, it said.


The strong coal exports from Gladstone in December were supported by surging volumes to China.

A total of 1.58 million mt of coal was exported from Gladstone to China in December, up 15% year on year and 77% higher month on month, and the largest monthly volume in 42 months, GPC data showed. Exports to China from Gladstone totaled 12.98 million mt in 2017, up 27% year on year and the largest annual total since 2014. China’s total metallurgical coal imports in 2017 are estimated to have risen from less than 60 million mt a year earlier to around 71 million mt, according to the Resources and Energy Quarterly report.

The rise was driven by strong demand from Chinese steel mills and constraints on domestic coal production. Chinese imports of metallurgical coal are expected to remain relatively high in 2018 and 2019, with the possibility that China could overtake Japan as the world’s largest metallurgical coal importer during the period, the report added. Coal shipment volumes to Japan from Gladstone in December were the second highest for the year at 2.22 million mt, having fallen 2% year on year and risen 37% month on month. Exports to Japan from Gladstone fell 11% year on year in 2017 to 21.50 million mt, which was the lowest yearly total since 20.13 million mt in 2013. Exports to India from Gladstone in December stood at 1.30 million mt, down 31% year on year and up 20% month on month. Total 2017 Gladstone exports to India were also the lowest since 2013, having fallen 23% year on year to 12.03 million mt, the GPC data showed.