DESPITE COVID-19 putting a stop to its official opening last month, T-Ports has forged ahead in the wet commissioning process of its newly-finished $130 million Lucky Bay port.
The company welcomed the arrival of its transshipment vessel, the MV Lucky Eyre, into Lucky Bay in mid March, which was also the completion time of the port.
T-Ports chief executive officer Kieran Carvill said the company then went into a "very quiet" wet commissioning of the port as COVID-19 restrictions hindered any celebrations.
"I went home to Qld for a weekend myself, and got stuck due to border restrictions, so there has been a lot of hard work behind this process," he said.
"But we do consider ourselves lucky in that while we have had a lot of stress and start-up pain to deal with, others were forced into lock-down.
"We are very thankful to (grain trader) ADM for their patience and working with us to get through this phase and proud of all the people within T-Ports of the monumental effort that they've put in."
So far, five boats have been loaded, totalling nearly 100,000 tonnes of wheat and barley, with three bound for Qld, one to Vietnam and one to the Middle East.
Mr Carvill said more vessels would be loaded in June and July.
"We are using all of these loads as part of the wet commissioning process, which is the time you identify all small start-up problems, the removal of which improves the systems efficiency," he said.
"It's a continual work in progress. But so far, we are very happy with the choices we have made technologically.
"We still have more efficiencies to reach, but we're at the stage we expected to be."
The port is using an 87-metre transshipment vessel, the Lucky Eyre, to load Panamax-sized vessels off the Lucky Bay coast.
The transshipment vessel can hold up to 3500t and can load up to 13,800t a day.
Mr Carvill said they accepted grain from 190 different growers during harvest at their two new bunker sites at Lock and Lucky Bay, which can hold up to 500,000t.
"We were quite happy with that to start with, particularly as it was a disaster season for many in our catchment area because of drought and frost," he said.
"We have been extremely grateful to the grower support shown to us."
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Mr Carvill said the company was in the process of delivering free shares to 120 EP graingrowers that indicated their support for the project in 2017 and had signed expressions of interest at the time to deliver tonnes to the port.
These growers will acquire equity in the port for ongoing throughput over the next seven years.
"That's a nice milestone for us," he said.
"The growers on the EP always wanted to have ownership in their infrastructure, but we never believed they should have to pay for the port.
"So we gave them the option - if they delivered tonnes, we gave them shares to the maximum of 380,000t a year over seven years.
"It means a good percentage of the company (up to 12pc) is owned by local growers.
"We are also in the process of giving a shareholding to the Barngarla people, our native title partners. We are pleased and honoured to have their support for the development."
As to T-Ports' Wallaroo port development, Mr Carvill said the company was going into the tender phase, with most of the engineering finished.
"We are also engaged with the government agencies on development approvals," he said.
"But since the completion of Lucky Bay, and understanding what their requirements are, we don't forsee any major hurdles with that.
"We are aiming to start construction in the third quarter of this year to be in operation for season 2021."
But for now, Mr Carvill looked forward to seeing how the 2020 season panned out, after starting so well, and the Lucky Bay port having a true test of its capabilities.
"But so far we are living up to the promises that we have made to the growers and are very proud to be the first partially grower-owned port in SA," he said.
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