Port talks impasse ends as threat withdrawn

Shipping Australia agrees to meet to resolve Port of Melbourne queuing delays, ending threat to walk away from discussions

By Brad Gardner | March 2, 2010

Shipping Australia has agreed to meet with Victoria’s peak trucking lobby to resolve queuing delays at the Port of Melbourne, ending its threat to walk away from discussions.

The group will meet the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) on March 10 to try and resolve delays at empty container parks which are leading to increased operator costs and claims of potential fatigue management breaches.

VTA CEO Philip Lovel has welcomed the shift in Shipping Australia’s attitude and has urged all parties in the container transport chain to work together to address problems at the port.

"It is good that the shipping lines are willing to sit around the table to explore every avenue collaboratively with other stakeholders to avoid major congestion at empty container parks in the future," Lovel says.

Shipping Australia CEO Llew Russell last month ruled out meetings due to the prospect of legal action against his members over container detention fees.

The VTA 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.

"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 last month.

The VTA wants shipping lines to take responsibility for the lack of empty container park capacity and for all parties in the container transport chain to address problems at the port.

"There has also been acceptance that some parks have experienced equipment failures, that more can be done to improve information visibility in the container transport chain and that work should be undertaken to explore longer opening hours for the empty parks," Lovel says.

The March 10 meeting will also include representatives from shipping lines, transport companies, customs brokers and freight forwarders, importers and exporters, empty container park managers and government officials.

Representatives from the office of Roads and Ports Minister Tim Pallas will also attend to encourage stakeholders to find viable long-term solutions on delays.

"We will be seeking operational outcomes from the meeting. Everyone needs to understand the current level of capacity constraints in empty container storage in Melbourne, and the projected future needs as trade volumes grow," Lovel says.

While welcoming Russell’s involvement, Lovel says he hopes shipping line representatives accept their share of responsibility in finding solutions to the problems at the port.

Russell has previously said the shipping industry has limited powers to act on the delays.

"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," he told ATN.

However he says Shipping Australia is working to improve transparency to help port carriers.

"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.

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