Shippers dodge blame in truck queuing row

Shipping Australia returns fire at VTA, refusing to meet and blaming container delays on the financial downturn

Shippers dodge blame in truck queuing row
We'll walk away, Russell tells VTA
By Michael House | February 2, 2010

Shipping Australia says it is doing all it can to reduce congestion in container parks at the Port of Melbourne and will not cooperate with the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) on the issue until threats of legal action are dropped.

Shipping Australia CEO Llew Russell says the major cause for the build up in container constraints at the port can be put down to the global economic crisis, which has meant a drop in evacuated containers.

"The congestion in the container parks themselves has been exacerbated by the global financial crisis because we are not evacuating as many empties [containers] out of Australia because they are not needed," Russell says.

"In 2008 obviously we were evacuating more, but over the last two years we have seen a build up particularly in Melbourne, Sydney and Fremantle."

Shipping Australia has come under criticism from the VTA over the delays at the port, with the VTA claiming drivers are being forced to queue for hours and operators are being unfairly charged container detention fees.

VTA CEO Phillip Lovel labelled the delays "unacceptable".

"The shipping lines must be held accountable," he says.

"We are at the point where we would welcome importers and their transport service providers taking on the shipping lines in court on empty container detention fees."

But Russell says legal action will not achieve anything and Shipping Australia will not bow down to the threats made by the VTA.

Both organisations are due to meet the Melbourne Ports Corporation on March 10, but the hostility between them may scuttle any chance of action.

"The VTA has threatened legal action and given this type of environment we don’t see much value in meeting with them," he says.

"If they remove these threats we will be happy to sit down and talk with them, you can’t have these threats hanging over your heads [while trying to find a solution."

He also says the shipping industry has limited powers with which to act on the problem, contrary to what the VTA claims.

"We don’t own the shipping park. With the vast majority we don’t have any financial involvement with them. It’s the same as the container stevedores- we don’t have any control of them," Russell says.

But Russell maintains his organisation is doing as much as it can to improve the situation.

"We are working with the trade gate on trialling a new system on a much more transparent process," he says.

"A new electronic system that will allow trucks to see what is going on during the day and alerting the parks as to when they are able to collect containers as it’s always hard for parks to know when this is going to happen.

"At the moment the trial is going very well and once the Melbourne trial is finished it will go onto other cities."

VTA CEO Phil Lovel last week said a litany of problems at the port could be fixed if Shipping Australia worked with the trucking group.

"The fact of the matter is that there is so much that could be achieved to improve the operational performance of empty container parks through mutual dialogue," he says.

"This includes analysing overall operational capacity, initiatives to lengthen the opening hours of empty parks and better exchange of electronic information to improve visibility of empty container movements and park performance."

The VTA wants an assurance that operators will not be slugged with detention fees if congestion and delays restrict their ability to return containers on time.

The VTA is also planning to involve Victorian Minister for Roads and Ports Tim Pallas by writing him a brief outlining the trucking industry’s concerns.

The representative group also called for container parks to be investigated for chain of responsibility breaches based on the time some truck drivers were queuing for containers.

The VTA claims trucks trying to return containers to parks are being turned away, while redirections are increasing operator administration costs and causing delivery delays.

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