The competition watchdog is investigating whether mining giant BHP Billiton should retain exclusive rights to operate tugboats at Port Hedland, with rival miners proposing a separate operator.
The West Australian reports BHP's exclusive rights to operate tugboats at the port expired in 2011, but the company has applied for a new 25 year stint.
It argues a solo tugboat operator maximises the number of iron ore ships that can leave the port, which outweighs any anti-competitive drawback.
The company also says an experienced operator is vital to ensure the safety of the port and each ship.
But in a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Pilbara rival Fortescue Metals Group said a different operator should be considered.
“Without testing the market, it is impossible to say whether the current cost and quality of towage services at the port is reasonable,” it said.
The ACCC is currently investigating submissions, but is yet to grant a ruling on tugboat operation at the vital export terminal.