Port Kembla outer harbor development



Ray Smith, business development manager, Port Kembla Port Corporation, New South Wales, Australia


Expanding port facilities within the confines of two breakwaters and limited port land is a challenge faced by Port Kembla Port Corporation. Port Kembla is located on the east coast of Australia, just 60 kilometers south of Sydney, and is confronted by increasing international trade demand which can only be met by construction of new port infrastructure. The challenge facing the port is how to design and build these facilities within the existing boundaries of the port. The solution, notwithstanding the many technical challenges, is the development of seven new berths and  approximately 45 hectares of reclaimed land.


Port Kembla is a major Australian industrial port, which traditionally serviced the local steel, coal and grain export trades. All of these existing facilities are located in the main hub of the inner harbor. Construction began in the 1950s, when BHP Steel expanded their steel plant located on the south side of the port. Over the years a coal export facility (17 megatonnes per year capacity), a bulk grain terminal (up to 5 megatonnes per year) were constructed.

Construction of three new berths and 45 hectares of terminal area for motor vehicle imports, containers and heavy project cargoes was completed in 2007. There were approximately 380 RoRo and other small liner trade vessels calls in the year 2011 to this terminal. With this most recent expansion, future development in the inner harbor is effectively limited by lack of foreshore land and future growth will focus on the outer harbor.

Drivers for expansion

The major container terminal for New South Wales is Sydney’s Port Botany with historical growth of 7 percent per annum. At some point in the next 10 to 15 years this facility will reach capacity at which time Port Kembla is ideally placed to provide the additional capacity to service both the major consumer markets of Sydney and southern New South Wales. Long-term, a four berth facility of 1,200 meter berth line will be constructed in the outer harbor area with a minimum of 1.2 million TEU per year and the capability to handle up to 8,000 TEU vessels. The increasing international demand for Australian minerals has resulted in proposals for development of new mines along the eastern seaboard including iron ore, bauxite and coal. Port Kembla is gearing up to meet this demand by the construction of three berths with at least one berth capable of handling capesize vessels.

Design Parameters

The challenge facing the port was to maximize the number of berths and supporting land area within the confines of the outer harbor port boundaries which consists of 140 hectares of water and 25 hectares of port owned foreshore land. The shipping channel to access to the inner harbor area must also be maintained to enable safe passage for capsize vessels up to 300 meters in length. A navigational channel, sufficiently wide enough to complete the 100 degree starboard turn after clearing the northern breakwater on entering the port, is a necessity. This section of the port, despite the protection of the two breakwaters can be affected by some short and long period wave effects, particularly when offshore weather depressions sweep in from the north east.

A number of hydrodynamic and engineering studies have been undertaken by AECOM, to model wave behaviour and to determine the optimal bearing of berth lines to minimize the effects of dynamic waves. It was found that a major contributor was seiching, resulting from waves reflected off the shoreline outside the northern breakwater. As a result, berth lines were defined to counter or at least minimize this effect.

Simulation studies were also conducted by experienced Port Kembla pilots to understand risk factors in handling capsize vessels within the confines of the newly defined shipping channels, given various scenarios of weather, tug usage and vessel characteristics. The end result of these studies determined the layout of channel access required to access both the inner harbor and new outer harbor berths, subject to pilotage operations. This then defined the amount of land reclamation that could be constructed without infringing on the channel zones.

Supporting rail infrastructure

The Port Corporation owns the rail infrastructure within the port environs both within the inner and outer harbor areas. The inner harbor consists of rail receival stations for both coal and grain with approximately 60 percent of export coal and grain received by rail.

The rail infrastructure in the outer harbor is typically 50 years old, supporting the original port operations over six timber jetties constructed from the 1920s to the 1960s. Many of these jetties have already been decommissioned and the remaining three will be subsumed into the new development over the next 10 years. Design of the outer harbor rail infrastructure with capacity to handle 90 percent of both the bulk and container capacity of the terminal is underway. Bulk trains up to 1 kilometer in length will discharge at one of two dump stations and convey to undercover storage sheds.

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