Stand-off continues on detention fees

Truckers get breakthrough on problems at Port of Melbourne despite "tension" over container detention fees

By Brad Gardner | March 12, 2010

Truckers have achieved a breakthrough on problems at the Port of Melbourne despite "tension" over transport operators being hit with container detention fees.

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) says its March 10 meeting on capacity constraints with government and industry representatives led to an agreement for all parties to improve information exchanges and for solutions to be developed to improve efficiency.

The VTA has campaigned since January for changes to the running of the port, citing a litany of problems such as containers not being repatriated, equipment failures, labour issues, drivers being left in queues for more than two hours and stagnating operational flows.

"We agreed on some initiatives going forward," VTA Deputy CEO Neil Chambers says.

"The objective was met in terms of people understanding [the issues]."

However Chambers says there was "a lot of tension" when discussion turned to whether shipping lines should charge fees to trucking companies if congestion prevents them from returning containers on time.

Although there was no agreement on the issue, Chambers says shipping lines and container parks left the meeting understanding the trucking industry’s position and the prospect that some operators may take legal action.

The VTA wanted a three-month moratorium on fees while problems at the port were resolved. It has suggested importers and transport service providers take shipping lines to court after finding they were being hit with fines for not returning containers on time due to delays beyond their control.

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

Chambers says the group also used the event to remind all parties of their chain of responsibility obligations.

He says many attendees did not know they were bound by chain of responsibility, which requires all parties in the supply chain to ensure drivers are not fatigued, including not leaving them in queue for hours on end.

"For many of them it was a revelation," Chambers says.

"That [law] effectively means a truck in a queue at any facility is a matter for the loading manager to manage."

The meeting was attended by shipping lines, transport companies, customs brokers and freight forwarders, importers and exporters, empty container park managers and government officials.

Despite earlier threatening to walk away from talks, Shipping Australia decided to attend.

Shipping Australia CEO Llew Russell baulked at the VTA’s suggestion of legal action against container detention fees.

"The VTA has threatened legal action and given this type of environment we don’t see much value in meeting with them," Russell told ATN earlier this year.

ATN has contacted Russell for comment, who has previously said shipping lines are working to improve transparency at the port.

"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," he says.

The scheme is currently being trialled in Melbourne with an intention to send it to other cities.

Chambers hopes the meeting is the start of the process to resolve the issues, which he says must be addressed if the port is to cope with growing freight volumes.

"It was the start of the beginning," he says.

"But I’m realistic to know one meeting doesn’t solve the problem."

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