Almost half the world's iron ore trade has been brought to a standstill today as a tropical storm gathers strength in Western Australia's Pilbara region, leading to mining majors to close their ports.
Rio Tinto is closing its Cape Lambert, Dampier and Port Hedland ports as a tropical low, expected to intensify into a category one tropical cyclone, approaches the north-west coast.
"Operations are continuing at this stage, but preparations are commencing to secure port and associated coastal infrastructure ahead of expected deteriorating conditions this evening," the company said in a statement.
Mining firms BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group are also set to shut down their operations at Port Hedland.
The companies have decided against loading vessels to maximum weight limits as a precautionary safety measure while the progress of the storm is being monitored.
Iron ore prices have increased owing to concerns that Australia's cyclone season, which runs from November until April, will reduce supplies, reports Reuters.
The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology said that the low may develop into a cyclone on Wednesday as it moves to the west, just off the Pilbara coastline.
"If the system does reach cyclone intensity then gales with wind gusts to 100 kilometres per hour could develop between De Grey and Dampier during Wednesday, possibly extending west to Onslow later in the day," the department said on its website.
Earlier this month, Dampier, which handles nearly a fifth of the world's seabourne iron ore trade, reopened after a two-day closure due to a cyclone off the north-west coast.
Image: Cape Lambert loading facility, Western Australia. Credit: Rio Tinto.