Atlas Iron founder David Flanagan suffered a surprise vote against his shift from an executive role to becoming the company's chairman, with just over 12 per cent of shares voting against his re-election as a director.
Speaking on the sidelines of yesterday's annual general meeting, Mr Flanagan waved off suggestions the 50 million share no-vote was a protest against the shift, saying he understood the proxy votes came from US investors required to vote against non-independent chairmen of listed companies. A vote of thanks for his role in founding and leading the company moved by managing director Ken Brinsden was met with universal support and a round of applause at the meeting.
Addressing shareholders for the first time as Atlas managing director, Ken Brinsden gave the clearest public indication yet that a trade of port space at the 50 million tonne a year Atlas dominated North West Infrastructure berths was on the cards in order to win rail access for some of the company's further flung iron ore deposits.
"We control 46.5 million tonnes per annum of inner harbour port capacity, in a harbour that is now in effect fully allocated for particular classes of shipping. That's a really strong bargaining chip for Atlas to be able to unlock a rail solution and therefore be able to keep growing," he said.
Recent volatility in the iron price had cast doubt over long term growth for many Pilbara iron ore players, including Atlas' goal of exporting at a rate of 46mtpa by 2017. While Atlas was not named, those doubts were seized upon on Tuesday by BHP coal and iron ore boss Marcus Randolph, who said BHP's port congestion issues might be solved by the failure of other players to take up their allocation before the expiry of "use it or lose it" provisions kick in.
Mr Brinsden dismissed that suggestion yesterday, saying BHP had previously underestimated the ability of its competitors to grow aggressively and should not make the same mistake with Atlas.
Atlas shares closed at $1.535 yesterday, down 1.5¢.