Scandinavia’s most high-profile bulk handling activity remains the transport of iron ore to global markets from the mines of north Sweden and Finland.
In April, a Swedish court decision gave the much anticipated green light for the ambitious port project, known as Malmporten, to open the port of Luleå to large Capesize bulkers to ship iron ore to steelworks worldwide.
The plan aims to bolster the northern Baltic Sea bulk port’s ability to handle larger capacity ships – so that it can compete with the Norwegian port of Narvik for iron ore exports from Swedish state-owned mining giant LKAB. The Bothnia Bay port presently handles 55,000 dwt bulkers, but the project will give access to 160,000 dwt Capesize ships.
The Swedish Maritime Administration (SMA) aims for larger bulkers to be using the port by 2020. The initiative will relieve capacity pressures at Narvik and on the Iron Ore Line, known as the Malmbanan, a 250-mile railway serving LKAB’s northern mines. SMA argues that Luleå must be able to receive larger vessels to relieve capacity constraints and allow for increased ore production.
Costing SEK3B (€311M), the European Union-supported Malmporten project is underway, and involves waterfront developments and the dredging of waterways. Railway infrastructure is also being boosted. Trafikverket, the Swedish infrastructure group, has increased the maximum axle load on the southern section of Malmbanan from 30t to 32.5t, following a two-year trial with LKAB.
Upgrading the 130-mile rail link between Luleå and Vitåfors has increased the maximum payload for iron ore trains by 680t. The trains are typically formed of two locomotives and 68 wagons designed with a 32.5t axleload capacity. Trafikverket will gradually roll out the increased loads and adjust the rail infrastructure, with studies underway for the remainder of the Narvik line.
But Narvik remains LKAB’s main export facility, bolstered by the opening in 2016 of its SEK1.1B new harbour, which increased capacity by 50% to 30 Mtpa. LKAB’s operations at Narvik have also been boosted by the installation of a ThyssenKrupp shiploader, with an option for a second. The huge 144mlong and 50m-high loader can handle 11,000 tph of iron ore and 9,000 tph of pellets.
LKAB is also enjoying an uptick in the global iron ore market, with spot prices up from US$71/t in Q3 compared with US$59/t a year earlier. In 2017, LKAB also started shipments of specialist magnetite-based iron ore for pipe coating to Mexico for the 800 km-long Sur De Texas-Tuxpan gas pipeline.