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Chinese import restrictions extend to Australian thermal coal: sources

Chinese restrictions on imports of Australian coking coal have now been extended to thermal coal as well; stoking fears the curbs may spread to more discharge ports across the country, sources said Friday.

Market sources with knowledge of the matter told S&P Global Platts this week that China had imposed port restrictions on coking coal imports at several ports in north-eastern China including Bayuquan, Dandong and Dalian effective Tuesday afternoon.

Rizhao port in Shandong province had confirmed to Platts on Friday that the curbs would apply to Australian coal, including thermal and coking coal.

“There’ll be an indefinite delay on custom clearance for all coal of Australian origin,” a port official told Platts.

Two vessels carrying Australian thermal coal are berthed at Rizhao or Lanshan port in northeastern China: the 80,000-dwt Panamax ship Inception that sailed from Gladstone on December 3, and the Ganbei, a 172,000-dwt Capesize ship that departed Gladstone on December 30, according to cFlow, Platts trade flow software.

Three ships are waiting in Rizhao port’s offshore vessel queue: the 172,000-dwt Capesize ship Sunny Boffa carrying Indonesian coal, the 81,000-dwt Tiger Lily that sailed from Latvia’s Riga port in mid-December with a cargo of Russian coal, and the Ning Long Hai 8, a 42,000-dwt ship with Qinhuangdao domestic coal, Platts flow showed Friday.

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The Indus Prosperity a 92,000-dwt ship carrying Australian coal that departed Newcastle port on December 25, is sitting off the coast of north-eastern China and has no stated destination. The Penelope Oldendorff, a 114,000-dwt ship that left Gladstone port in mid-January is presently in the East China Sea,

Some power plants in southern China are also affected by the import ban on thermal coal, sources said.

A source at a power plant in Guangzhou told Platts on Friday that they had received verbal notice from port authorities that customs clearance for their Australian thermal coal cargoes would be delayed.

“We’re now discussing what to do next, and this is going to affect our future procurement,” said the end-user who imports the Newcastle 5,500 kcal/kg NAR grade of coal.

However, some sources in eastern China said they were yet to receive such notice.

“We usually buy one Capesize cargo a month. We’ve heard about the ban in Shantou and also Rizhao, so we’re keeping a close watch,” said the steel maker.

Shantou port authorities could not be reached for comments.

Platts cFlow showed Friday three ships were berthed at coal discharge berths in Zhanjiang port in southern China, including the Sea Rising a 76,000-dwt ship that arrived Wednesday from Abbot Point port in Queensland. At nearby Fangcheng port, there were four ships in the port’s queue including the 182,000-dwt Capesize ship Golden Aso that sailed from Newcastle on December 27.

Several ships were also queuing offshore Fangcheng port including the Star Aurora, a 171,000-dwt Capesize ship with an overdue arrival date for Fangcheng port of January 18, and the HL Power, another Capesize ship carrying Australian coal that sailed from Dalrymple Bay terminal on October 1 and had stopped off at Hong Kong until January 26, Platts cFlow showed.

A China-based trader said delays at some of the affected ports could be about 40 days, adding that the curbs would likely boost Chinese domestic 5,500 kcal/kg NAR prices as buyers were expected to turn to domestic market.

Australian high-ash 5,500 kcal/kg NAR thermal coal was assessed at $62.50/mt and Chinese domestic spot cargoes of the same grade were assessed at Yuan 588/mt FOB Qinhuangdao Thursday.

FUTURES CONTRACTS BUOYANT

Trade activities in China’s domestic spot market were limited as most participants had left for the Lunar New Year holidays.

Chinese futures prices for both coking and thermal coal continued their uptrend after a spike Thursday.

The May futures contract for 5,500 kcal/kg NAR thermal coal on the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange was up 1.34% early Friday, after jumping 2.3% a day before.

Australian coal terminals operator Port Waratah Coal Services shipped 12.8 million mt of coal to China and Hong Kong in 2018, equivalent to 11.95% of total exports, PWCS data showed.

Nearly 90% of PWCS’ total exports were thermal coal, or around 96.3 million mt, and the remaining 10.7 million mt was coking coal.

Out of the total coal exports in January, 7.57% headed to China, down from 10.83% in December.

Exports to China in October and November stood at around 13.6%, after a mere 3.9% in September.

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