DEEP and regular dredging of the Gulf of Carpentaria port of Karumba looks set to start again next year with the reinvigoration of the Century zinc mine in remote north west Queensland.
That will pave the way for live cattle trade vessels to once again load from the port in reasonably strong numbers, a massive boon for pastoralists who have been forced to send stock thousands of kilometres by road to Townsville or Darwin.
New Century Resources, which this year took ownership of the mine along with making a number of associated acquisitions including cattle stations surrounding it, says dredging should kick off again in 2018, pending commercial issues.
When the Century mine closed at the end of 2015 and its then owners MMG ceased dredging the channel leading out into the Gulf, the live cattle trade’s access to the port of Karumba, which has the only quarantine holding yard in the country where cattle can walk straight onto a ship, was also shut down.
After heavy community lobbying, the Queensland Government last year came up with a one-off $1.7 million contribution for dredging the port but that was only sufficient to allow small vessels in shallower draft in.
John Kaus, managing director of South East Asia Livestock Services (SEALS), which has a long history of loading out of Karumba, said the news was extremely positive for both exporters and pastoralists.
Hundreds of thousands of head of cattle were being trucked long distances at massive transportation costs, not to mention the toll on road infrastructure, as a result of the mine’s closure, he said.
Since the government injection, SEALS has loaded only a couple of 2000-head vessels out of Karumba, compared to the regular two-a-month of feeder cattle going to Indonesia.
The Chinese-backed MMG had worked the large zinc deposit at Lawn Hill and ceased operations when it was depleted.
It transferred the mine to economic rehabilitation specialists in February, who in turn struck a deal with West Australian-based Attila Resources to fund plans to extract remaining reserves. That partnership saw the forming of New Century Resources.
The acquisition included 783 square kilometres of tenements in the prolific north west minerals province of Queensland, along with a 7 million tonne per annum processing plant, 700-man accommodation camp, private airport with sealed runway, an 80,000t storage and bulk loadout at the port of Karumba and the transshipment vessel MV Wunma.
The company’s head of corporate affairs and social responsibility Shane Goodwin said the initial focus would be the significant amount of zinc remaining in the tailings dam.
However, New Century has also acquired a 49 per cent interest in Lawn Hill Riversleigh Pastoral Holding Company, which surrounds the mine, and its intention is to expand that enterprise.
The 7000 square kilometres currently runs 38,000 head, which makes it underutilised, Mr Goodwin said.
It is 51pc indigenous owned.
“Where mining companies often see pastoral enterprises as secondary to their interests, we see it as something of value we’d like to grow,” he said.
“We will also be looking into options for fattening stock at Karumba prior to export, which would increase the live-ex capacity out of the port.”