Australian wheat bound for Iraq surpasses previous record for largest grain shipment

by Emily Wilson
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PORT KEMBLA, AUSTRALIA — The largest shipment of grain ever to be exported from Australia left the GrainCorp Ltd. terminal at Port Kembla in mid-March for delivery to Iraq. The 122,000-tonne shipment of Australian milling wheat, valued at more than U.S.$19 million, represents a "significant high point in Australia's trade relationship with the Middle East," according to Nigel Officer, global sales and marketing manager for AWB Limited, Australia's sole bulk wheat exporter.

Loading the grain shipment required a massive, combined effort from Grain-Corp, the Port Authority and all involved, he said.

Joe Di Leo, GrainCorp's chief operating officer, said the shipment was equivalent to filling an Olympic-size swimming pool nearly 50 times. It took more than 70 trains (2,300 rail cars) to carry the grain from across central and southern New South Wales and more than 20 days to assemble the cargo. Staff worked around the clock to load the vessel in a record 40 to 50 hours.

"This record shipment is as much a feat for grain growers of New South Wales as it is for GrainCorp and AWB," Mr. Di Leo said. "On the back of one of this country's highest yielding harvests (over 23 million tonnes) and at a time when grain stocks are extraordinarily high worldwide, the opportunity to clear stocks is now critical for farmers, as is the opportunity to provide exporting facilities which add value to Australian growers' grain."

Because of the weight of the shipment, the vessel carrying the grain, the Prima II, had to sail from the load berth on a high tide to safely navigate the Port Kembla approach channel. The exact quantity of wheat loaded had to depend on the depth of water available at the time of sailing. Once in Iraq, the cargo had to be unloaded onto smaller vessels for distribution at various ports.

The shipment surpasses the previous record for the largest Australian grain cargo set in 1986, when 88,620 tonnes of grain was loaded onto the Marshall Govorov from two ports at Kwinana, Western Australia, and Port Lincoln, South Australia