port of townsville

Australia’s largest backhoe dredge, Woomera, has arrived at the Port of Townsville to begin widening the port’s shipping channels as part of a major upgrade.

The $232 million Channel Upgrade is the largest infrastructure project in the Port’s 158-year history and is vital to ensuring trade, defence and cruise opportunities no longer bypass Townsville.

Queensland-based company Hall Contracting will use Woomera to widen Townsville’s 14.9km shipping channels over the next two years.

The Woomera is a mechanical dredge which uses an excavator to dig compact material from the seabed. 

It is a slower dredging method than alternatives, but will reduce the amount of seabed being disturbed at any one time, limiting the footprint of sediment plumes and associated environmental impact.

Federal Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, said the announcement underscores the Federal Government’s commitment to projects that support the growing industry needs of the Townsville region.

“The channel upgrade project is a critical component of the Townsville City Deal, which will generate jobs and support Townsville’s future growth,” Mr Fletcher said.

Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Mark Bailey, said the State Government backed the Port of Townsville through its $105 million investment towards the upgrade.

“We understand the importance of keeping Queensland’s ports in the hands of Queenslanders as publicly owned infrastructure,” Mr Bailey said.

“I’m pleased to see Woomera now arrive at the port, to begin the dredging required to set the Port of Townsville up for a booming future.

“With the widening of the channel comes more opportunities for the Port, for Townsville and for Queensland, creating jobs and boosting the economy at a time when it’s needed most.”

Federal Member for Herbert, Phil Thompson, said the project had supported a significant local workforce.

“The project has already so far supported around 1,400 jobs, with the dredging contract supporting more than 70 full-time employees, including trainees who are upskilling and reskilling,” Mr Thompson said.

“The Channel Upgrade will create jobs and drive the economy not just in the short term, but for decades to come, as we’re able to bring in ships up to 26 per cent longer than can currently be accommodated.”

Queensland Minister for Resources and Member for Townsville, Scott Stewart, said the Channel Upgrade would create more opportunities for the city.

“Townsville was built on the back of the port and these upgrades are essential to creating jobs as part of our economic recovery from COVID-19,” Mr Stewart said.

“This upgrade is important for the resources industry, as it will allow more of North Queensland’s world class minerals to be exported to the world.”

State Member for Mundingburra, Les Walker, said these upgrades supported Townsville’s traditional industries, but were also important to build capacity for the hydrogen sector.

“Townsville and the port are well-placed to take advantage of the hydrogen industry which could create thousands of additional jobs in the region and the channel upgrade will be a key part of this moving forward,” Mr Walker said.

Port of Townsville CEO, Ranee Crosby, said the Woomera’s arrival marked an exciting step for the project.

“The Port of Townsville is northern Australia’s largest general cargo port and services the region’s agriculture, mining, defence, construction, retail, vehicle and tourism industries,” Ms Crosby said.

“Despite our port’s size, diversity and significance to north Australia’s industries, our shipping channel is one of the narrowest in Australia, measuring just 92m across.

“As ships are getting larger it is critical the channel is widened to ensure we can continue to service North Queensland, support the region’s economy, and prepare for future growth for emerging industries including the export of green hydrogen.”

The project will double the width of the shipping channel from 92m to 180m at the inshore (Port) end, tapering to 120m at the seaward end.

All material removed during capital dredging will be brought to land for beneficial reuse in a 62ha reclamation area bounded by a rock wall, which was completed by Hall Contracting in 2021.

Woomera will begin dredging a small area to provide access to the reclaim area during daylight hours, before moving to the shipping channel, where it will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week (weather permitting). 

The Townsville Port Channel Upgrade is a $232 million joint project of the Australian and Queensland Governments, and the Port of Townsville, and forms part of the Townsville City Deal signed in December 2016. 

Under the City Deal, the Australian Government is contributing $75 million, the Queensland Government is contributing $105 million, and the Port of Townsville is contributing the remaining $52 million.

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