Pilbara iron ore producers shipped a record 874.2 million tonnes in 2020 as they sprinted to cash in on surging prices for the steel-making commodity. The export figure, from a confidential but well-informed industry source, represents a 3 per cent jump on the 849.1mt shipped in 2019 and was well clear of the previous record of 851mt shipped in 2018. The surge in exports from Pilbara producers came as the price of iron ore hit nine-year highs above $US160/t as the year closed in. The booming price is being driven by China’s voracious appetite for the commodity, spurred on by stimulus spending from the country’s central government, combined with supply disruptions for the world’s number two iron ore supplier, Brazil. The record annual export figure came despite market leader Rio Tinto continuing to underperform with its 331.9mt for the year being down slightly on the 332.7mt it shipped in 2019. It also flies in the face of suggestions by Chinese steel makers that WA producers were deliberately trying to curtail their exports in a bid to keep iron ore prices high. Both BHP and Rio Tinto were last month hauled before the China Iron and Steel Association which complained about the recent spike in ore prices. Yesterday it was revealed China had drawn-up a five-year plan to reduce its reliance on imported iron ore. Australian exports of the commodity have so far remained immune from Chinese sanctions amid a growing trade war between the two countries that has so far impacted wine, beef, timber, rock lobster, barley and coal. Pilbara producers came home with a wet sail in the last week of the year with a record 118 iron ore carriers departing from the three biggest Pilbara export ports of Port Hedland, Cape Lambert and Dampier. Shipping data showed WA producers rushed to bolster year-end export numbers and claw back storm-related disruptions from earlier in December. The last seven days of iron ore exports from the three ports meant about 21.5mt of ore was shipped in that week alone, which represents an annualised run rate of 1.12 billion tonnes. The 118 departures easily trumped the previous weekly record of 109 in the first week of June last year. That month represented a record monthly export rate of 82mt, for an annualised run rate of 1bt. In June, both BHP and Roy Hill achieved monthly record shipping rates of 27.4mt and 6.2mt, respectively. Despite the record ship movements last week, December exports of 78.7mt were well short of the monthly record achieved in June because of a tropical low packing strong winds and heavy rain earlier last month that resulted in temporary closures at each of the three main Pilbara iron ore ports. However, Rio achieved a monthly record of 14mt from the port of Dampier in December. The figures do not include the roughly 20mt of magnetite concentrate shipped last year from Cape Preston by China’s CITIC Pacific Mining.