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‘Queue for two hours then told to go home’

PORT DELAYS: VTA demands action on lengthening queues, driver fatigue at Port of Melbourne

January 22, 2009

Wharf bottlenecks and capacity constraints at container parks are blowing out queuing delays at the Port of Melbourne. Truckers are demanding action.

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) calls the delays – some drivers are waiting more than two hours for service – unacceptable, urging supply chain partners to address the issues.

It wants shipping lines held accountable and container parks investigated for breaching chain of responsibility laws.

Facilities for empty containers have reached operational capacity and are performing poorly, according to the VTA, and it’s costing transport operators in administration and delivery delays.

“The Christmas peak has turned into the New Year blues for the Port of Melbourne’s container supply chain,” VTA CEO Philip Lovel says.

“Transport companies are not in a position to absorb the additional operational and administration costs caused by these delays. They will have no choice but to recover the costs from importers and exporters through higher rates, demurrage, or though other surcharges and levies.”

Lovel highlights a litany of problems at the port. Shipping lines have not been repatriating empty containers overseas, while equipment failures, labour issues and stagnating operational flows at empty parks – which aren’t operating around the clock – make them unable to handle increasing volumes.

“No doubt transport companies can also swamp a park with truck arrivals if they think that they will get a good run through the park. But, when they all have the same idea, congestion occurs,” Lovel says.

“A prime illustration of the urgency of the problems has been the real difficulties in returning Hapag-Lloyd 40’ containers to any empty park – no one wants to take them and the shipping line has even suggested to transport companies that they should return them to the importers.”

The VTA also reports a marked increase in truck redirections, adding to futile trips and unnecessary heavy vehicle movements on roads.

“Imagine sitting in a truck queue for hours only to be told ‘sorry mate, we are full, take the box elsewhere’,” says Lovel. “Who pays for that? And how does that help the Government’s aim to reduce truck traffic associated with the Port of Melbourne?”

Lovel says making drivers wait in queues for more than two hours is a breach of the legal obligations a container park has as loading managers under chain of responsibility law.

He wants VicRoads and police to investigate, saying parks should be taking ‘reasonable steps’ to minimise driver fatigue.

The VTA is also writing to shipping lines to ask what they are doing to improve access to empty parks. A meeting has been called for March with representative group Shipping Australia.

“The shipping lines must be held accountable,” Lovel says. “They have narrowed the number of empty parks they employ and have under-compensated those parks for years for the services they provide. Now, they cannot walk away from the consequences of their actions.”

The VTA also wants confirmation that no empty container detention charges will be invoiced to importers if congestion and delays have restricted the ability to return containers on time. Lovel hints at legal action.

“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,” he says.

“We might even consider setting up a ‘fighting fund’ to facilitate such legal actions. Detention fees are a real money-gouge by the shipping lines, made more obnoxious by the lack of service at empty park facilities.”

Lovel suggests technology to improve electronic management systems at container parks is one answer.

“We will be urging everyone to crack on with these initiatives – let’s move rapidly past trials to prove that the systems work and get on with actual implementation,” he says.

“The problems are so severe and the need for more timely information flows is so apparent that we would be negligent, all of us, if we didn’t do so.”

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