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Rio Tinto CEO Jakob Stausholm.

Rio Tinto has experienced a tumultuous start to 2021, with cyclone warnings, Indigenous heritage site controversy and restricted labour availability impacting its operations.

According to its March quarter report, the company shipped 77.8 million tonnes of iron ore from the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

This was a 7 per cent increase on the March quarter of 2020.

However, the shipment figure was a 12 per cent drop compared with the last quarter of 2020.

Iron ore production wasn’t dissimilar either, with 76.4 million tonnes during the first quarter this year representing an 11 per cent decrease on the previous quarter.

Despite all this, Rio Tinto chief executive Jakob Stausholm remained positive about the outlook for 2021.

“We achieved an overall solid operating performance in the first quarter. We have maintained guidance ranges in all our products, with site teams successfully managing the effects of significant rainfall, in particular at our Australian iron ore assets,” Stausholm said.

While Rio Tinto narrowly avoided the effects of Cyclone Seroja, which crossed the west coast as a category three cyclone, the company’s labour force and maintenance capabilities were among those affected by wild weather over the Pilbara region in January.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported in February that overall Australian iron ore exports had declined by seven per cent in January following port shutdowns in Port Hedland due to concerns over Cyclone Lucas.

Rio Tinto stated that any maintenance activities disrupted in the first quarter “will be prioritised for the rest of the year.”

In addressing the issues of environmental responsibility, following the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia, Stausholm said he and the company had big plans to improve their standing in the area.

“It has been a period of deep reflection for the company, and I have personally spent a significant amount of time listening, learning and taking actions, in particular to better manage Traditional Owner partnerships and cultural heritage,” Stausholm said.

“I have appointed a new leadership team and the transition is progressing well. We have set out clear priorities to develop a stronger Rio Tinto.

“Our focus is to become the best operator, strive for impeccable ESG (environmental, social and governance) credentials, excel in development and secure a strong social license.”