BIGGER ships are making their presence felt in Port Adelaide, just as they are in many of the world’s ports.
The trend has necessitated a $40million channel dredging and swing basin-widening program by Flinders Ports, the port owner and manager.
Flinders Ports’ chief executive Vincent Tremaine picks up the story.
“Ships have been increasing in size at a rapid rate. Certainly we haven’t remained immune from that challenge,” Mr Tremaine says.
“We are currently working on some restrictions in terms of bigger ships and how we handle them. It probably has caught everyone a bit off guard how quickly the size of the ships have changed.
“We are working on a dredging program at the moment that will see a widening and a deepening of our channels.”
It is expected the works should take around 100 days to complete and a development application is being assessed by state authorities.
“Assuming we get approval from the state government, the width of the swing basin is going to increase by about twenty metres in diameter and there is going to be a widening of the channels from 130 to 170 metres,” Mr Tremaine says.
Flinders Ports is to fund the project itself.
Mr Tremaine says the Flinders Ports business is trading well.
“Business in the past 12 months has been very good, probably helped along by a very good grain harvest. We’ve also had iron ore return,” he says.
Iron ore is exported from Port Adelaide container terminal.
“It arrives in open-top containers, we store it on the wharf then we move it on the container cranes and then we rotate the containers into the hold of the ship,” Mr Tremaine explains.
He notes the container trade has been strong.
“We were up a few per cent on prior years and certainly it exceeded our budget. So I could say, it was a good year.”
Mr Tremaine says business was sound, not just at Port Adelaide but at the regional terminals also operated by Flinders Ports.
“It was fairly consistent. They all have got good grain volumes,” he says.
“Our other bulk cargoes held grain very well so it’s been a few very consistent years for us.”
The economic challenges facing South Australia have been well-documented, notably the decline in manufacturing and the final closure of the automotive sector that is to occur in October.
Have these things had an effect?
“Well, the auto industry hasn’t gone yet so that hasn’t yet had a major impact on us,” Mr Tremaine says. “We would expect some of the automotive sector to be replaced by imported cars so it is not going to be a significant turnaround if you like, from a port perspective anyway.”
He notes the ro ro trade is already “doing reasonably well”.
The container port at Port Adelaide is the centrepiece of operations.
How does it fare with competition?
“Certainly with containers, we lose some to Melbourne. That has been going on for many years,” Mr Tremaine says.
“However, as we have increased the liner trades, there’s been a move onto those that call in here rather than shifting across to Melbourne
“It is an expensive process shifting to Melbourne so there is a tendency to stick with the trade here when possible.”
Mr Tremaine says the port is well-placed going forward, even if the state takes time to restructure economically.
Grains and minerals are sure to be exported in large quantities, even if the rest of the economy struggles.
“We are actually very optimistic about the state and where it’s going,” he says.
An interesting recent development was the acquisition of Queensland business, Townsville Bulk Storage and Handling as part of Flinders Ports’ logistics business.
Mr Tremaine says they sought to apply the lessons they had learnt in South Australia beyond state borders.
“A starting place was Townsville which is a very good business with a similar culture,” he says.
“So we have been sharing technology with them over the last few year so we got to know them fairly well,” he says.
“So after discussions we bought them out on July 1 this year.”
He laughs off suggestions pictures of NRL star Johnathan Thurston at TBSH will be replaced with those of Tony Modra.
Certainly South Australia has its challenges ahead.
But in Flinders Ports, it appears to have some wonderful assets upon which to help draw in its quest for economic sustainability.