From: Reuters
Published July 14, 2008 11:18 AM

Environmentalists block Australia coal port

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Environmental protesters in Australia brought the world's biggest coal terminal to a standstill on Sunday by blocking railway lines and chaining themselves to rail cars.

Police said they arrested about 37 people who chained themselves to a train and rail tracks at the port in Newcastle, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Sydney to protest over the impact of burning coal on climate change.

"This caused three trains scheduled for Sunday to stop before getting to the terminal, meaning about 20,000 tonnes of coal could not be unloaded," a spokesman for the port, Matthew Watson told Reuters.

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Damien Lawson, an organizer for Friends of the Earth Australia, said up to 50 protesters chained themselves to rail tracks and a train, or sat on top of the train during the demonstration.

"We are achieving what we set out to do," Lawson told Reuters. "We said we would temporarily shut down the rail line into the world's biggest coal port and we did. We've sent a message around the world about the need for urgent action on climate change."

Loading of coal already in the terminal on to waiting freighters was not affected, according to Watson.

Big coal companies including BHP Billiton Ltd, Xstrata Plc, Rio Tinto Ltd/Plc, Gloucester Coal Ltd and Centennial Coal Company Ltd rely on the port to ship millions of tonnes of coal each year.

Activists from a coalition of green groups started a "camp for climate action" last Wednesday to halt coal trains traveling from Australia's Hunter Valley mining region to the terminal.

Protests were also scheduled for Monday and could include more rail line sit-ins, Lawson said.

With consistent demand, much of it from China, 38.7 million tonnes of coal were shipped out of Newcastle in the first five months of 2008, according to port figures.

Coal exports from the port surged to 2.059 million tonnes last week, with 38 ships waiting to load.

Australia, highly dependent on coal for making electricity and generating hundreds of billions of dollars in annual export revenue, is scheduled to release a paper on Wednesday spelling out guidelines for how it intends to implement carbon emissions trading, in part to address pollution caused by coal.

(Reporting by James Regan; Editing by Quentin Bryar)

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