Fortescue puts pressure on Atlas Iron over port development

Atlas Iron has reinforced its position as a potential developer of facilities at Port Hedland, saying it has no exclusive rights at the major Western Australian iron ore port in this regard.

Fortescue Metals Group, which holds a 19.9 per cent stake in Atlas, yesterday requested more clarity on the junior miner’s rights to develop facilities at Port Hedland.

Atlas, through the North West Infrastructure (NWI) joint venture with Brockman Mining, was believed to holds rights to develop the Stanley Point Berth 3 and 4 at South West Creek at the port.

However, Atlas released a statement earlier this month saying it had received a letter from the Western Australian Office of the Minister for Transport, Planning and Lands outlining it did not have these rights.

These rights have been viewed as a key reason why the likes of Fortescue, Hancock Prospecting and Mineral Resources are pursuing Atlas Iron as a possible takeover target.

Fortescue demonstrated its focus on the port rights by asking Atlas for an update on the matter.

“At the time of that announcement, Atlas advised shareholders that it was considering its position with respect to this notice,” the Andrew Forrest-chaired company said.

“In common with other Atlas shareholders, Fortescue believes that further clarity is needed on the position of Atlas in relation to these assets and we continue to assess our strategic options regarding our shareholding in Atlas.”

In response, Atlas today noted a June 14 statement by the Minister in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly that “exclusivity has been taken away” from NWI as a developer of Stanley Point Berths 3 and 4.

Atlas also pointed to the letter from the Office of the Minister for Transport, Planning and Lands, which outlined that the berths “are set aside for junior miners.”

“Further to that decision, the allocation of berth capacity remains the function of the Pilbara Ports Authority (PPA) as the responsible entity for the Port of Port Hedland, pursuant to the Port Authorities Act 1999,” Atlas added, referring to the letter.

Atlas also noted that its 2015 Prospectus advised that the berth allocation at South West Creek was not yet the subject of a firm lease agreement with the Pilbara Port Authority.

“However, Atlas notes media comments attribute to the Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan indicate that the state government has not ruled out a compromise on its ‘junior miner’ policy if an iron ore major emerges as an owner of Atlas,” Atlas stated.

“Atlas notes that in any event, the shareholders of NWI remain in aggregate the owners of the largest undeveloped Pilbara resources, other than existing major producers.”

Fortescue’s interest in Atlas has heightened this week. In addition to the query about Atlas’ rights at the port, Fortescue raised concerns about Hancock’s $390 million takeover offer for Atlas, saying its bidder’s statement included “misleading statements.”

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