50 years of iron ore

50 years of iron ore

In 2016, Rio Tinto and its Japanese business partners celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first shipment of iron ore from Australia to Japan. In 1966 the Houn Maru, loaded with the first contracted shipment of iron ore from Rio Tinto’s Mount Tom Price mine, set sail from Dampier port for Yawata Iron and Steel Company in Kitakyushu.

The lifting of an iron ore export ban by the Australian Government in 1960 opened the way for the development of the mine and the infrastructure needed to transport the ore. It led to Australia helping fuel Japan’s dramatic economic growth in the latter half of the 20th century.

(Left) The world’s biggest ore car at the time in the late 1960s (Centre) 1966 Official opening of the Hamersley Iron Project (Right) Parker Point car dumper construction 1965-66

At an event to mark the anniversary in Tokyo, Rio Tinto’s then-CEO said:

“The first iron ore shipment between Japan and Rio Tinto is the wonderful milestone we are celebrating tonight, but the journey actually began some years before then. The key was Japan’s steel mills undertaking to sign long-term contracts – to buy iron ore from a mine that had yet to be developed, from a rail line that had yet to be laid, from a port hundreds of miles away that had yet to be built.

“It is no exaggeration to say that without Japan, we would not have the world-class iron ore business what we do today. We will never forget Japan’s support.”

In April 2017, Rio Tinto reached another historic milestone, of five billion tonnes of iron ore exported from our mines in the Pilbara, just seven months after the 50th anniversary of the first shipment.  Fittingly, the five billionth tonne, just as the very first tonne, was delivered to Japan, our first customer and valued long-term partner. 

Rio Tinto is committed to building on the relationships with Japan that began more than a half-century ago, and we look forward to continuing our journey together for the next 50 years and beyond.