Port delays continue as operators deal with on-going turmoil


Industrial actions, port protests, traffic congestion, weather-related events, and now a heavy container freight demand.

One issue after the next has container transport operators across Australia urging customers for understanding as they fight to recover from a myriad of cargo delays.

Neil Chambers, the director of Container Transport Alliance Australia, said that while stevedore DP World Australia has resolved its long-running pay battle with the maritime union, the backlog of containers in all DP World terminals persists.

“Vessel berthing delays continue [between 7-14 days], which has a knock-on effect to other terminals in all states as vessel schedule reliability continues to struggle,” Chambers said.

“To deal with the berthing delays, container stevedore terminals are implementing Movement Count Restrictions [MCRs] under their contracts with shipping lines, restricting the number of containers being exchanged from vessels coming alongside.

“The effect of this is that the vessels are discharging their import cargoes, and not taking up as may export containers [full or empty] in order to vacate the berth promptly for the next arriving vessel.”

Chambers said that the significant flow-on impact from this for landside operators is that transport resources are being smashed in picking up all imports within available free time and staging them through yards.

“In turn, this impacts on the ability of transport operators to deliver to customers as more truck and trailing equipment is required to deal with the wharf volumes.

“Transport operators are being smashed with the import volumes and are working with their customers the best that they can with the resources that they have.”

Compounding the issue are empty container parks rapidly becoming congested as the rate at which empty containers are being evacuated from ports by shipping lines has been constrained.

“Terminal scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and IT outages are also contributing to delays.

“For instance, there have been progressive maintenance issues with the Automated Stacking Cranes (ASCs) at DP World Brisbane Terminal, and maintenance outages at Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) in Melbourne.”

Chambers notes that the threat of more pro-Palestinian protests targeting Zim Line vessels is ever present, following the closure of VICT in Melbourne for more than three days.

This has prompted many industry representative bodies, including CTAA, to call on governments to ensure that ports are recognised as “critical infrastructure” and strongly protected from the highly negative impacts of such disruptive actions.

“On top of all of this now, the majority of the container terminals in Australia have an up-tick in vessel arrivals, import discharges and export receivals over the coming weeks.”

“One of the reasons for this is an increase in import freight ordered from Asia prior to the commencement of the Lunar New Year and continued strong containerised export demand.”

Chambers said importers, exporters and freight forwarders need to appreciate that the consequences of the continued turmoil and increased freight demand for container transport operators include:

• Higher operating costs, including more overtime for drivers and operations staff as extra night and weekend shifts become necessary to utilise all terminal slot availability.

• Higher staging and handling costs through transport yards as export receival dates chop & change, and high imports need to be recovered from terminals before storage is incurred.

• Resourcing issues in making final deliveries to customers as truck & trailing equipment are being smashed by large import volumes needing to be collected from the container terminals.

• Growing congestion at empty container parks resulting in delays to import de-hire and export pick-ups.

“As usual, container transport operators will work diligently to try to meet their customers’ demands,” Chambers added.

“However, there shouldn’t be a false sense that landside container logistics operations have returned to some form of normal, they haven’t.

“Costs are still higher [between 15-20 per cent], delays persist, and resourcing across the board is a huge issue.”

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