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Onslow Iron’s first transhipper launched

Mineral Resources’ Onslow Iron project has reached a major milestone with the successful launch of Western Australia’s first shallow draft and fully enclosed transhipper.

Transhippers, designed by MinRes in collaboration with naval architects, as well as local and international engineering firms, are key to one of the largest iron ore projects under development in Australia.

The unique vessels significantly reduce the project’s cost and environmental footprint as their shallow draft means millions of tonnes of iron ore can be shipped without the need for a deep-water port.

Transhippers are also an integral part of MinRes’ dust-free mine-to-ship transport solution as they will be fully enclosed to ensure no dust pollution in Onslow from MinRes operations.

Each transhipper is named after an island off the Pilbara coast, with the first, MinRes Airlie, launched into the water in March, one year after construction started at the COSCO shipyard in Zhoushan, China.

Onslow Iron will see ore transported by fully covered road trains along a dedicated haul road from the Ken’s Bore mine, located 150 kilometres east of Onslow, to the Port of Ashburton.

At the port, the ore is transferred to a 220,000 tonne enclosed negative pressure storage facility. From there, it will be moved via covered conveyors into the transhipper’s “hopper” storage area.

At 123 metres long and 36 metres wide, the huge transhippers will have a seven-metre draft when fully loaded, transporting ore to capesize bulk carriers anchored 22 nautical miles (40 kilometres) off the Pilbara coast.

This innovative design drastically reduced the amount of seabed dredging required for the loading berth at the Port of Ashburton.

When operating off the Pilbara coast, the five transhippers will be propelled by powerful tugs that provide crew with home-like comforts and high spec finishes.

Transhippers are equipped with a loading system that distributes the ore throughout the vessel’s hold. Once ready for discharge, the ore drops onto conveyors that feed a loading boom into capesize bulk carriers.

MinRes Managing Director Chris Ellison said: “The successful launch of our first transhipper, MinRes Airlie, is a significant milestone in the development of our Onslow Iron project, which is set to redefine mining in Western Australia.

“Transhippers are just the latest example of the cutting-edge innovation being designed and developed by MinRes and are crucial to how we will unlock stranded iron ore deposits in the West Pilbara.

“The unique design of these shallow draft vessels means we don’t need to build deep-water berths, drastically reducing both the cost and environmental footprint of this landmark project.

“The interior fit-out of these vessels demonstrates our commitment to setting a new standard for workplace wellness, whether our people work in our state-of-the-art headquarters in Perth or at sea on a transhipper.”

MinRes’ $3 billion Onslow Iron project is set to redefine mining in Western Australia, shipping around 35 million tonnes of iron ore per year from mid-2024.

Fitting out of MinRes Airlie will continue throughout 2023 ahead of an expected arrival in Western Australia early next year.