SYDNEY A well-supplied global iron ore market will easily absorb lost production due to a fire at BHP's (BHP.AX) (BLT.L) big Mt Whaleback iron ore mine in Australia, traders in the commodity said on Thursday.
A fire earlier on Thursday broke out at the mine, the largest of seven operated by BHP in the Pilbara iron ore belt of Western Australia state.
BHP said all staff were safe but that operations had been suspended as an investigation got underway.
Images in local media showed fire and smoke billowing out of the processing facilities at the mine.
"All personnel at site have been accounted for and we are working to ensure the site is safe," a company spokeswoman said.
A major outage at Mount Whaleback could provide a much-needed boost in the price of iron ore, which has tumbled nearly 40 percent from a February peak amid a mounting supply glut
This week iron ore traded under $60 a tonne for the first time since last October.
But traders said not to expect a surge in the price anywhere near the records of about $200 a tonne five or six years ago.
The Mount Whaleback mine produces BHP's highest-grade iron ore, branded as Newman iron ore fines with iron content of 62.7 percent.
A prolonged outage could spur buyers toward similar high-grade iron ore from BHP rivals Rio Tinto (RIO.AX) (RIO.L) and Vale (VALE5.SA).But a mountain of stockpiles at China's ports - the highest since 2004 at about 137 million tonnes - would limit any impact of a supply disruption.
"The market is still well supplied so the impact may not be seen very soon," said a Shanghai-based iron ore trader.
Figures to be released next week by the Pilbara Ports Authority are expected to show shipments in May from the Port Hedland terminal used by BHP to China could come close to breaking the previous monthly record of 37.4 million tonnes due to optimum mining conditions.
"May was a disruption-free month for the Pilbara, so there is no shortage of iron ore around," a commodities trader said.
(Reporting by James Regan; Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio in MANILA; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and David Evans)