Australia's largest backhoe dredge has travelled north to move a whopping 3.2 million cubic metres of material as part of the Port of Townsville's channel upgrade.
Dredging started this week on the $232 million project, which will allow ships up to 300 metres long to safely access the port.
The shipping channel will nearly double in width, from 92m to 180m at the port end, and will taper to 120m at the seaward end.
Known as the Woomera, the backhoe dredge Hall Contracting will use to conduct the works is a sight to behold.
It has a 1902 kilowatt (2533 horsepower) excavator as well as 7m3, 10m3, 13m3 and 18m3 bucket attachments and can dredge to depths of up to 26m.
Built in 2014, the 65m long vessel has both a 60 tonne and 5t deck crane and was designed in the Netherlands.
Hall Contracting CEO Cameron Hall said as Australia's largest dredging contractor, it was great to be able to compete with European dredging companies for backhoe dredging contracts.
"Our team is well-versed in undertaking large-scale backhoe dredging projects in busy port environments, having assisted in widening and deepening the Trinity Inlet shipping channel at the Port of Cairns in 2019," Mr Hall said.
"The use of a backhoe dredge like Woomera in place of a trailer suction hopper dredge at the Port of Townsville poses environmental benefits, with backhoe dredges generating significantly less turbidity.
"This type of dredge also does not require water or pipelines to transport material, minimising its impact on the environment."
The Port of Townsville is Australia's largest sugar exporting port, with 1,198,2522t of sugar departing in the 2020-21 financial year.
Live cattle are also exported out of the port, with 233,709 head shipped in the same time period.
A number of other agricultural commodities are exported, including molasses, fertiliser, grains and legumes.
Trade volumes through the facility are forecast to triple over the next 30 years.
Port of Townsville CEO Ranee Crosby said the Woomera's arrival marked an exciting step for the project.
"The Port of Townsville is northern Australia's largest general cargo port and services the region's agriculture, mining, defence, construction, retail, vehicle and tourism industries," Ms Crosby said.
"Despite our port's size, diversity and significance to north Australia's industries, our shipping channel is one of the narrowest in Australia, measuring just 92m across.
"As ships are getting larger it is critical the channel is widened to ensure we can continue to service North Queensland, support the region's economy, and prepare for future growth for emerging industries including the export of green hydrogen."
The project has been funded by the Australian and Queensland governments as well as the Port of Townsville.
Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said the state government had backed the Port of Townsville through its $105m investment towards the upgrade.
"We understand the importance of keeping Queensland's ports in the hands of Queenslanders as publicly owned infrastructure," Mr Bailey said.
"I'm pleased to see Woomera now arrive at the port, to begin the dredging required to set the Port of Townsville up for a booming future.
"With the widening of the channel comes more opportunities for the port, for Townsville and for Queensland, creating jobs and boosting the economy at a time when it's needed most."
Federal Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher said the announcement underscored the government's continued commitment to projects that support the growing industry needs of the Townsville region.
"The channel upgrade project is a critical component of the Townsville City Deal, which will generate jobs and support Townsville's future growth," Mr Fletcher said.
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