Logistics News

Melbourne container congestion ramping up: CTAA

SAL says lines can do no more to shift empty containers


With containership lines protesting constraints on their ability to evacuate empty containers fast enough to ease congestion in the Australian system, road transporters warn Melbourne’s storage capacity is reaching crisis point.

Shipowner representative body Shipping Australia Ltd (SAL) put the blame squarely on trade torsions rooted in a large pandemic-driven surge of imports on top of a trade imbalance that always sees comparatively few full export containers, inherent infrastructure constraints and limits in landside flexibility, particularly in container trucking.

SAL argues calls for lines to employ more “sweeper” ships to evacuate empty containers are “futile” as full containers almost always take precedence over empty ones and berth slots are limited.

It critiques trucking for failing to service empty container parks (ECPs) on non-peak hours but offers no action on the lines’ behalf beyond the status quo and, despite the congestion, again refuses to countenance a cessation of contain detention charges, saying that might make the situation worse.

“Empty container parks have trialled late evening opening but trucking operators did not avail themselves of the longer hours and so empty container parks no longer offer these later hours,” SAL states.

Read how MCS/Qube Cooks River ECP opened later, here

Meanwhile in Melbourne, the status quo means empty container parks in Melbourne being near or at operational capacity, causing delays in import container de-hires, difficulties in accessing export empties in some instances, expensive redirections, truck queuing and added landside logistics costs, Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) reports.

The build-up of empty containers involves major shipping lines, notably Maersk/Hamburg Sud, MSC, Cosco/China Shipping, and Hyundai, and is being exacerbated by the huge and ongoing Melbourne road infrastructure works.

“In the case of Maersk/Hamburg Sud, their major empty container park providers, Westlink, Altona North and Port Melbourne Containers (PMC), have reached capacity, including an emergency ‘spill-over’ yard utilised in Francis Street, Yarraville,” CTAA says.

“This has led Maersk to redirect 40-foot empty containers to Lawson Empty Container Park in Somerton in Melbourne’s outer north.”

It adds that, for those container transport operators who are based in Melbourne’s west, the longer travel time to and from Somerton is a significant concern, with road works mixed with  the longer travel distance, add up to extra operational costs for many, while also tying  up truck and trailing equipment that otherwise would be used for customer deliveries.

“The alternative of having no de-hire option for Maersk/Hamburg Sud empties is less palatable as containers would be stockpiling even more quickly in transport operators’ yards,” CTAA director Neil Chambers says.

“This is causing significant additional transport, rehandling and administration costs of approximately $90 to $200 per container depending on the level of delays.

“It is a matter for individual transport operators to discuss with their customers, but it’s a real concern due to the significant empty container capacity constraints being experienced right now.”

“CTAA calls on Maersk/Hamburg Sud to try to double their efforts to repatriate more empties away from Melbourne, and also to provide alternative de-hire options to alleviate undue empty container handling costs and delays.”

It is not entirely bad news, with other container logistics operators offering space

“Pleasingly, ACFS Webb Dock has announced that it will now accommodate Maersk 40’ High Cube (HC) units marked for PMC from Monday, 18 January,” Chambers says.

“We understand however that current Maersk vessel schedules and anticipated empty exports won’t come close to reducing the current empty container build up.

“So, empty management congestion will be with us for some time yet regrettably, bringing with it added costs and delays.”

“The delays experienced in managing Cosco / China Shipping empties are also of serious concern.”

“Cosco’s wholly owned empty container park, Oceania Container Services (OCS) in Jones Road, Brooklyn is constantly congested, and truck arrival capacity is limited. Before Christmas, Cosco redirected some empty equipment types to Allied Container Services in Tottenham.

“However, Allied was soon overwhelmed and the alternative has now ceased.

“The lack of timely arrival slots at ECPs means that transport operators fight a losing battle to meet de-hire timeframes which avoid importers being slugged container detention fees. Alas, this is not always possible in the current congested operating environment.

“Everyone should understand that whenever there is a redirection ordered on containers for de-hire from one facility to another, there is a time delay of at least 24 hours or longer for transport operators to manage.

“In that time, containers can breach the detention free time imposed by the shipping line.”

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