Shipping rationalised as containers are left behind

Melbourne Ports sees downturn in freight levels, while economic crisis means containers are left on the dock

By Samantha Freestone

Melbourne Ports has experienced a downturn in freight levels over November due to a "rationalisation" of shipping services hit by the economic downturn.

The consortium of shipping services using the Melbourne container docks has opted for larger container ships and those liners are docking more frequently at Sydney’s Botany terminal than they have done previously, according to a spokesperson for stevedore Patrick.

"We don’t comment on volumes until the next quarter [but] some of these issues are because they have rationalised services," says Marie Fester, Corporate Relations Manager for Patrick parent Asciano.

She says the fact shipping companies are opting for larger vessels is possibly due to the global economic downturn.

"That is part of the reason why," she says.

Port rotations have been reconfigured and as a result Melbourne’s figures are down, while those of both Sydney and Brisbane have increased, she claims.

But Phil Kelly, Victoria State Secretary of industry group Shipping Australia, isn't concerned. He says while freight levels were down for the month of November, Port of Melbourne container numbers were up in August, September and October, with October representing a national record of 210,000 TEUs.

August recorded 205,066 TEUs and September saw 203,487 TEUs.

"Our imports are not as large as Sydney but our exports are huge, and always have been," Kelly says. "We are well in excess of Sydney.

"We marked 2 million TEU two years ago and I would estimate we will make that this year as well."

A spokesperson for the Port of Melbourne, Peter Harry, says Australia’s leading port is "still up 8.5 percent for the 12 months to the end of November".

Meanwhile, a customs agent for Diverse Freight, Grant Culshaw, says some clients cannot afford to redeem freight and this is also causing a backlog at the Melbourne ports.

"The wharves are very quiet right now," he says.

Both the Port of Melbourne and Patrick could not confirm this.

Kelly says global demand for larger vessels is an economic reality, as with all forms of transport growing the size of its equipment.

"You might get one instance if a ship had a long wait, she might go to Sydney and they might rail it down, and vice-versa. But those instances are very rare, and expensive," he says.

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