30 Apr 2020

Dear customers and valued partners,

I am writing to update you on North Queensland Bulk Ports ongoing response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Importantly, this also includes how we are getting on with business and continuing to support our customers and communities in these challenging times.

Response to COVID-19

To facilitate physical distancing, we’ve installed new protective Perspex screens to complement the intercom system now in use at the Port of Mackay security entrance. This provides our Marine Operations and Security Officers with appropriate protection, while enabling our port users to continue to access the port efficiently.

Our Marine Pilots are critical to the Queensland trade supply chain and are often the first point of contact with overseas vessels when they arrive into our waters. I would like to acknowledge the true professionalism they have shown while adhering to the new control measures. Some of these measures include an increase in personal protective equipment (PPE) and reduced physical interactions between marine pilots and other employees.

NQBP Lines Handlers at the Port of Mackay are another critical component of port operations, and they have been provided training in the correct use of PPE.

The combined effort of or people, along with the remarkable response of our port partners, has seen NQBP pilots facilitate 216 movements between Hay Point (178) and Mackay (38) in March, which is close to our regular monthly totals for pilotage services.

It is not only our operational staff that have had to adapt to continue to fulfil their essential roles. With new working arrangements meaning that most of our office staff are working remotely, the members of our Finance team have been implementing innovative practices and using technology to ensure efficient accounts payable and receivable services continue. This includes a focus on prompt payments to our local suppliers.

Our emergency management team is engaged with Local and District Disaster Management Groups and receives the latest advice from key regulatory agencies: the Australian Government Department of Health; Queensland Health; Maritime Safety Queensland; and Australian Border Force.

We are working closely with public safety stakeholders including Queensland Police, Queensland Health and Local Disaster Management Groups to monitor and, where necessary, restrict public access to NQBP assets. Over Easter, NQBP supported the authorities in closing vehicle access to the Southern Breakwater in Mackay. Close monitoring continues at NQBP’s other public assets, and signage has been installed to remind the public of social distancing when using our port facilities.

In recognition that everyone’s focus is on health and safety and their business operations, NQBP has decided not to undertake our Annual Stakeholder Perception Survey at this time. We are committed to maintaining our close engagement with all stakeholders and look forward to gaining the valuable insights that survey provides at the appropriate time.

Community and stakeholders

Given the impact of COVID-19 on our port communities and indeed the nation, we are engaging with our community partners, so they know they have our support during these difficult times. The pandemic has meant many charity, community groups and organisations have been impacted. NQBP will continue to honour sponsorship and donation funding we have pledged to our community partners and we will work with them to support changes to their programs, projects or events to meet the new requirements.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant financial impact on many individuals and businesses. I note the Queensland Government has made a number of recent announcements in regard to assistance that is available. Even before the pandemic, NQBP has always taken a proactive approach to working with customers and tenants who are facing financial difficulties and I encourage anyone whose business has been impacted to get in contact with us, either via the link below or your normal NQBP contact.

We are also continuing to engage with key stakeholders including our Community Reference Groups, Ports Advisory Groups and Technical Advisory and Consultative Committees in new ways using technology to adhere to physical distancing requirements.

NQBP has been a long-time supporter of the work of Stella Maris in providing care and support services to the crews of the vessels that call at our ports. I am proud to let you know that we have donated $5,000 to fund more than 100 care packages with essential items for seafarers at the Port of Mackay. The Stella Maris’ Seafarers Care Package program is in response to crew members unable to come ashore to purchase basic items due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Queensland-wide program is being facilitated by Maritime Safety Queensland, and I know that some of our port partners have also made significant contributions to this important cause. If your organisation is interested in supporting the program, please contact Emma Grainger on 07 4944 3708.

Ongoing and essential operations

NQBP is balancing our number one priority, health and safety, with the essential role of our ports which are critical to around 27,000 miners, farmers and transport providers.

NQBP is also actively reviewing port operations and projects for their potential for local job creation and to ensure trade continues to flow through our ports.

At the Port of Weipa, new control measures will be implemented for the annual maintenance dredging program this year. NQBP has developed a Project Health Management Plan to control risks associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic and has been working closely with Rio Tinto Aluminium Weipa and other port users and stakeholders to align control measures to support safe and efficient operations.

In Mackay, NQBP will soon undertake two projects that will provide a boost for local jobs, while completing important safety and maintenance improvements. The first project includes demolition works to safely remove the redundant Mount Bassett Reservoir and landscaping.  The second project is to remove the deteriorated sections of sheet pile wall along the western revetment within the Port of Mackay. The stabilisation and upgrade of the Port of Mackay Sheet Pile Wall construction works will improve safety, reduce the risk of damage to assets and improve the visual amenity of the area.

The Port of Mackay is also seeing the continuation of the monthly break bulk service, a key supply chain service to central Queensland with the arrival of the Hoegh New York this month.

In Bowen, we recently completed condition assessment works on the Bowen Wharf and are now planning for remediation works to take place in the future. We will work with key stakeholders to ensure an optimum project scope is developed and will keep the community informed of any updates and changes.

Our latest figures indicate that, at this stage, trade continues to flow safely and efficiently through all of our ports, and we continue to be very much open for business. While March tonnage results were 10% lower than the previous March period, we suspect this is due to multiple factors: weather, breakdowns and our ports users adapting to the new ways of working.

The nine-month throughput tonnage figures to March hit a record for the Port of Mackay. The throughput total of 2,450,814 tonnes trumped the previous nine-month record total of 2,384,163 in 2012/13. It was a busy month for petroleum imports at Mackay with more than 137,000 tonnes facilitated. In support of the market demand facing Wilmar Bioethanol’s Sarina distiller, more than 9 million litres of ethanol were shipped via Mackay to other Australian markets for use in hand sanitizer and cleaning products.

Looking ahead with regard to this year’s sugar crush, we are engaging with stakeholders in the final stages of preparation for associated export activities from June onwards.

In closing, I would like to thank all of you for your ongoing commitment to the business and the support you all continue to give to each other. This is a challenging time for everyone but the professionalism and compassion that you all continue to display is helping to ensure the ongoing health of our workforce and our business.

Nicolas Fertin