North Queensland Bulk Ports is applying for Commonwealth permits to continue our annual maintenance dredging program at the Port of Weipa.

The 10-year permit, issued by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), will carry conditions that protect the marine environment.

This will allow for the long-term, sustainable management of maintenance dredging at the Port of Weipa and will safeguard the efficient operations of NQBP’s only trading port on the west coast of Queensland.

NQBP’s assessment reports found the risks to sensitive marine environments as a result of the maintenance dredging were predominantly low when managed appropriately.

Maintenance dredging at the Port of Weipa is essential for maintaining port infrastructure and export capacity.

About dredging

Just like roads, shipping channels require maintenance to keep ports operating effectively.

Maintenance dredging involves relocating sediment which travels along the coast and accumulates over the years where our shipping operation occurs.

Our most recent dredging program at the Port of Weipa was successfully completed in June 2020.

This program was completed despite unique challenges presented during strict COVID-19 restrictions.

New control measures in response to COVID-19 were implemented for the annual maintenance dredging at the Port of Weipa this year. Activities began on 29 April 2020 and concluded on 4 June 2020.

Project background

We have managed the annual maintenance dredging program at the Port of Weipa for more than 30 years.

Maintenance dredging is essential to keep the Ports of Weipa and Amrun operating effectively and to ensure the movement of freight, goods and bulk products to and from the region can continue.

In the same way we maintain roads and rail lines for freight transport, we need to look after our port infrastructure. Regular maintenance dredging ensures efficient, navigable shipping depths for our port users in Weipa.

We engaged the Port of Brisbane to undertake the maintenance dredging, done using the Trailing Suction Hopper Dredge (TSHD) Brisbane, supported by a bed leveller and hydrographic survey vessel.

COVID-19 impacts

In addition to existing Workplace Health and Safety Procedures, new control measures in response to COVID-19 were implemented for the dredging program this year.

We  developed a Project Health Management Plan to control risks associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The Project Health Management Plan outlined social distancing and self-isolation measures for crew and other essential contractors required to travel to Weipa.

We worked closely with Rio Tinto and other port users and stakeholders to align control measures to support safe and efficient operations.

Queensland Health, Maritime Safety Queensland, Weipa Town Authority and Rio Tinto were provided with the Project Health Management Plan.

BACKGROUND

We have undertaken detailed studies and engaged with a range of stakeholders to understand the source of natural sediment accumulation and appropriate removal and placement options at the Port of Weipa.

This work aligns with the Maintenance Dredging Strategy for Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) Ports released by the Queensland Government. Although the Port of Weipa is not located within the GBRWHA, the strategy is considered industry best-practice. It is important to NQBP that we maintain a best-practice approach at all our Ports.

Our maintenance dredging management plan was developed in consultation with a Technical Advisory and Consultative Committee consisting of representatives from the Commonwealth, state and local government, Traditional Owners, port users, environmental/conservation and community interest groups.

Our application for a Sea Dumping Permit will be assessed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act. One change to the permit, if approved, would be the relocation of the existing Dredge Material Placement Area (DMPA).

Currently located in Albatross Bay, it is proposed to shift the DMPA two kilometres west into deeper water to facilitate improved access for dredge vessels and to provide additional storage capacity for the next 10 years.

For further information on our application you read our information package and our reports and research.

These documents are publicly accessible under our commitment to clear and transparent communication, wherever possible, about all of our port operations and environmental activities.

Background studies and reports

By taking a structured, value-based, decision-making approach, we have arrived at a safe, efficient and sustainable solution for keeping the Port of Weipa open for business.

Our Port of Weipa Sustainable Sediment Management (SSM) Assessment of Navigational Infrastructure was peer reviewed by marine scientist Dr Paul Erftemeijer and is considered best practice.

It weighed up possible options for sediment management and determined that the placement of maintenance dredge material at sea was consistently ranked as the highest performing long-term approach.

Importantly, our assessment reports have found the risks to sensitive marine environments are predominantly low when managed appropriately.