* Transport ministry approves ship berths up to 400,000 dwt
* China closed ports to massive Vale ships since December (Adds information from Brazil.)
By Carrie Ho
SHANGHAI, May 30 (Reuters) - China’s transport ministry has approved plans to build berths for iron ore vessels of up to 400,000 deadweight tonnes (dwt) at its eastern Ningbo-Zoushan port, which would be large enough for the giant ships used by the world’s top iron ore miner Vale.
The ministry said on its website on Monday it had approved the 4.91 billion-yuan project to build five berths with capacities ranging from 50,000 dwt to 400,000 dwt and was awaiting final approval of the National Development and Reform Commission.
The largest berths are big enough for the so-called Valemaxes, the world’s biggest dry bulk carriers, with w hich Brazilian miner Vale aims to cut shipping costs to China, its biggest iron ore market.
China closed its ports to the Valemaxes after domestic ship owners protested against the vessels, saying Vale was using them to dominate the lucrative iron ore trade. The first and only Valemax allowed into China, the 380,000-tonne Berge Everest, docked at Dalian port in December.
Vale officials in Rio de Janeiro declined to comment.
Ship owners are suffering with a downturn in shipping rates. The Baltic Dry index, a benchmark for world bulk shipping prices traded at 950 points on Wednesday, 17 percent less than at the beginning of May and less than half of the 2,173 point level recorded Oct. 14.
The ban has forced Vale to transport iron ore to China via a trans-shipment hub in the Philippines. Vale, the world’s top iron ore exporter, will also open a hub in Malaysia in 2014 and is considering projects in South Korea and Japan.
Vale is counting on a fleet of 35 Valemaxes to slash shipping costs to China to help it compete with Australian rivals BHP Billiton <BHP.AX > and Rio Tinto .
Vale preferred shares, the company’s most-traded class of stock, fell 0.41 percent to 36.45 reais in late afternoon trading in Sao Paulo.
Iron ore with 62 percent iron content .IO62-CNO=MB rose for a second day gaining 1.27 percent to $134.82 a tonne on the Chinese spot market. (Additional reporting by Jeb Blount in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Leslie Gevirtz)