September 26, 2010 / 12:44 AM / 10 years ago

Australian activists close down largest coal port

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian environment activists closed down operations at the world’s largest coal port on Sunday, after entering three terminals and attaching themselves to loaders, the terminal operator and the protesters said.

Activists attach themselves to a coal loader during a protest in the port of Newcastle, 160km (100 miles) north of Sydney, September 26, 2010. REUTERS/Conor Ashleigh/Handout FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

The action by climate change group Rising Tide in Newcastle stopped operations at all three terminals operated by Port Waratah Coal Services, which normally run continuously, a company spokesman said.

Rising Tide said around 50 people were involved in the protest, some entering before dawn on Sunday, abseiling down machinery and attaching themselves to loaders. Others demonstrated with banners.

Annika Dean, a spokeswoman for the environment group, said the protest was an “emergency” action to highlight climate change, which she blamed for recent fires in Russia and floods in Pakistan.

“We have stopped all operations in the coal port,” said Dean. “These weather events are consistent with the scientific predictions for climate change. We feel like Australia’s coal exports are contributing to this problem.”

Newcastle, just north of Sydney, is the world’s largest coal export port and a major earner of foreign exchange for Australia. Port Waratah Coal Services is partly owned by mining giants Xstrata, and Rio Tinto, through its Coal and Allied subsidiary.

Coal is one of Australia’s leading exports but the industry is opposed by the country’s influential climate change lobby.

By mid-afternoon, several hours after the protest began at the coal port, organisers said several arrests had been made. Police said five people had been arrested.

The protest is the latest in a series of actions at the facility by the locally based Rising Tide, which has had limited success in disrupting commercial operations. Dean said she believed it was the first time the group had managed to halt all coal operations at the port.

A spokesman for Port Waratah Coal Services said it would be several days before losses resulting from the action could be assessed.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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