Twiggy ‘feared the worst’ after getting COVID

Twiggy ‘feared the worst’ after getting COVID

Australia’s wealthiest man has revealed he feared he might die when he contracted COVID-19 on an epic business trip – and he also took a swipe at Elon Musk.

Delivering his first speech in this year’s prestigious Boyer Lecture series on the ABC, Fortescue Metals chairman Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest revealed details of the harrowing ordeal in the five-month search for renewable energy projects for the iron ore miner.

Specifically, the epic trip was in pursuit of Mr Forrest’s ambitious plan to make “green steel” using hydrogen power, not fossil fuels.

“This isn’t a pipe dream,” the 59-year-old told the public broadcaster.

“Enterprising businesses around the world like Germany’s Thyssenkrupp, Sweden’s SSAB and Japan’s Nippon Steel have already figured out the technology.”

Leaving behind the relative safety of Western Australia with an entourage of 50 – none of whom also caught the deadly virus – they took in nations including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan, but it was in Uzbekistan where the billionaire was infected by a Russian translator.

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“It wasn’t a glamour trip,” Mr Forrest said.

“Timing was everything. The world was in lockdown. Economies and oil markets were collapsing. The diaries of political leaders were eerily empty and foreigners were a rarity.

“Those five months were some of the most surreal of my life.

“When I caught COVID and spent three days on oxygen in Switzerland, you could be forgiven for fearing the worst.

“Being medevaced between countries was no fun.

“Looking out of the isolation chamber, a tightly sealed plastic capsule, just made me wonder why I’d ever left home.”

But the worldwide thirst for green energy he saw gave him optimism.

“I sensed a change in the global mood – this shift in belief – that the impossible could be possible,” Mr Forrest said.

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“In Bhutan, the Prime Minister opened the border for the first time in months just to allow my team to enter. Any staff who met us had to then quarantine for three weeks.

“If you’ve done quarantine, you’ll know what a sacrifice that was.”

Afghanistan was also a hair-raising experience, with Vice President Amrullah Saleh targeted by a terrorist attack.

“After surviving a bomb and a seven-minute gun battle, with bandages on his hands and burns to his face, he negotiated the final clauses of our (green energy) sovereign agreement – just so the President, also one of the most selfless leaders I have ever met, could sign before we flew out,” Mr Forrest said.

Mr Forrest said big oil companies would make a “last stand” as green energy rose, using “fossil fuels to create blue hydrogen, storing the emissions somewhere – underground? – and peddling it as clean energy”.

“But it’s not,” he said.

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He also took a swipe at Tesla boss Elon Musk, who was recently estimated to have overtaken Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the world’s richest person.

“Elon Musk recently called hydrogen fuel cell cars mind-bogglingly stupid,” Mr Forrest said.

“He has every reason to fear them.

“His description is perhaps better suited to someone who peddles a battery technology as green when it runs on fossil fuel.

“I think the real climate change challenger could well be Fortescue.”

The company announced in August its bold target for net zero emissions by 2040.

Mr Forrest says part of the plan is powering the miner’s truck fleet on green energy and developing iron ore trains that run on either renewable electricity or “green ammonia”.

“This year, we’ll begin to settle designs that allow our ships to also run on zero-pollution, green ammonia,” he said.

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