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Peak transport season facing port challenges

CTAA highlights issues that continue to plague haulage firms


Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) has updated its critique of the transport and logistics woes besetting the country’s major container ports.

Sadly, in the lead-up to the peak transport season in the months leading up to Christmas, little appears to have changed since CTAA highlights issues affecting the Sydney port haulage market.

But the organisation is pointing to a more hard-nosed attitude from container hauliers.

In a sector fragmented by Federation and marked by regulatory neglect, empty container redirection and an inflexible container detention charging regime continue to inject costs on and disruption to trade and related transport operations, the CTAA’s ‘notice to industry’ notes.

The main pressure points nominated are empty container redirections, empty container management delays and shipping line empty container detention charges, with increased quarantine efforts against the brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) threat adding to the pressure.

Empty container redirections

Shipping lines redirection of empties both between empty container parks (ECPs) and direct return of empties (DRE) to between wharf facilities and ECPs are seen as continuing to contribute to higher costs.

CTAA estimates DRE now represents more than 20 per cent of total empty container de-hires, “adding complexity when redirections occur between DRE facilities and traditional empty container depots”.

Read how the anti-BMSB measures are affecting T&L around container ports, here

The process lacks an electronic interface, with sudden changes undermining trucking company planning and causing the sort of wasted runs that exacerbate port congestion.

Transport operator pleas to shipping lines and ECP operators for a rationalisation and automation of the process that can lead to $130 per container ‘no-show’ penalties, is said to have yet to be universally accepted.

Detention charges

A solution shipping lines instituted to cover the cost of and encourage discipline on the return of shipping containers has become a blunt instrument affecting the responsible and the blameless equally.

But it is lucrative, with CTAA estimating local shipping line branches gain up to 30 per cent of their revenue through them.

Though there is detention free time involved, the issue is exacerbated by unavoidable local regulatory factors, such as fumigation, and disruption around empty container handling.

With local businesses, such as importers and freight forwarders as keen as transporters seeking to avoid being lumped with extra costs, transports are reported to be taking a stricter line on cartage contract terms.

Transport companies are understood to be:

  • reinforcing the notice period required from customers to advise that a container is available for empty de-hire (typically two business days’ notice).
  • not accepting any liability for container detention fees borne by the importer / freight forwarder short of a set number of days, negotiated by the transport company directly with their customers transport operators are advising their customers that while all efforts will be made to de-hire containers expeditiously, no container detention fee liability will be entertained short of the defined number of days
  • further negotiating with customers conditions such as the minimum number of days before transport operators will accept any form of detention fee liability for containers subject to fumigation will begin once the fumigation has been completed  – including clearance by the Department of Agriculture (DOA), and the container can be transported for unpacking
  • considering, or are already applying, a “redirection fee” charged to their customers to cover costs related to the behaviour of shipping lines and ECPs they control or direct.

CTAA points to an understanding in the transport sector that a divided response to a challenge from companies with a global presence and headquartered  in the northern hemisphere means a weak one and is urging local interests to pass such costs back to shipping lines.

“In all circumstances though, importers and freight forwarders are encouraged to negotiate increased detention fee free days as soon as it is clear that fumigation or other causes of logistics chain delays will breach the container detention fee days imposed by the shipping lines through the Bill of Lading terms,” the CTAA’s notice states.

“Where empty depots (or terminal facilities in the case of DRE) are congested, or their opening hours are inadequate, shippers and their transport operators are urged to seek an alternative de-hire location from shipping lines.

“Where the lack of information available from shipping lines and their empty depot providers on the availability of suitable empty export container stock leads to futile trucks trips and/or export logistics chain delays, exporters are asked to insist that shipping lines actively allow and encourage their depot providers to liaise with exporters and transport operators about empty container stock availability applicable to their export release.”


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