Fortescue Metals Group (ASX: FMG) said today that the Capesize vessel MV Mystic left Port Hedland yesterday for China with the 15 millionth tonne on board, only a few days behind its original schedule. The positive news, after a wave of negative rumours, failed to put any new life into the company's flagging share price.

The company with high profile Andrew Twiggy Forrest as chief executive officer, has been battered more than most - having fallen since last June's +$A12/share to close today at $A2.09 ($US1.47), a slip of A18 cents on yesterday.

In the middle of last year Fortescue was the model being used by a series of aspiring new iron ore miners in the Pilbara and Mid West region of Western Australia, but all were hit hard by the softening iron ore price and the sudden halt to China's big thirst for more iron ore.

Some market analysts have told Mineweb that Fortescue Metals has been hit hard by rumour-mongers and short sellers trying to use the general sharemarket unease over the short to medium term iron ore and steelmaking markets.

As a multi billion dollar project, Fortescue made its maiden shipment to China on May 15 last year and executive director Graeme Rowley said today that the operation shipped 2.6 Mt in December for a fourth quarter tally of 6.3 Mt which took in a 10 day port shutdown for a new Port Hedland wharf to be commissioned.

Late last year, with signs of a major market downturn for iron ore, Fortescue Metals announced it would temporarily shelve plans for a stage two expansion.

Rowley said the company was continuing to fine tune operations as it continues the production ramp up in 2009.

Commissioning of the company's desand plant at the Cloudbreak mine is proceeding as planned, which will ensure Fortescue's ore specifications in quality and quantity is maintained, he said.

Meanwhile, another new face on the Pilbara iron ore mining scene, Atlas Iron Ltd (ASX: AGO) has been one of the few new iron ore companies to see an appreciation in its share price this year.

This came from the announcement this week of wide intersections of high grade iron ore at its Pardoo project which came rapidly into production on the basis of direct shipping ore (DSO) as - by Pilbara standards - it is a mere hop, skip and a jump from Pt Hedland (75 km).

Atlas announced in December that it had now secured an offtake for 30% of its DSO with a medium sized Chinese steelmaker and that it was preparing to make its second shipment out of Pt Hedland to China.