AUSTRALIA needs to build port infrastructure that can handle bigger ships and more trade, Port of Newcastle CEO Craig Carmody said last week.

Speaking at the Hunter Business Chamber infrastructure lunch last week, Mr Carmody said Australian port infrastructure needs to expand to accommodate the larger vessels that are starting to call at the ports. “We have to build it – or they won’t come,” he said.

He pointed to the New Zealand Port of Tauranga, which can accommodate vessels with capacities of up to 11,500 TEU, saying it was the only port in our part of the world able to handle such ships.

“All the major shipping lines are building these very large container vessels, with the deliberate intent of making them the new workhorse of global trade,” he said.

“The future of world trade is large vessels – and the countries trading with them will enjoy a significant reduction in their supply chain costs. Countries that cannot accept these large vessels in their ports will pay more for their exports and imports.”

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Mr Carmody explained that Australian east-coast ports were not equipped to handle these new, bigger ships not just in terms of waterside infrastructure, but the landside needs improvement to be able to efficiently unload big ships.

“A vessel over 15,000 TEU requires four quay cranes to unload it efficiently. And once the boxes are unloaded, can the ports stack the containers at the rate required?” he asked.

“The answer is no – our ports can’t service a maxi vessel in turnaround times that the ship owners would be happy with.

“Currently, the east coast of Australia is limited to container ships of no more than 8000 TEU. Brisbane and Botany have one berth each that can theoretically handle a 10,000 TEU vessel.”

Mr Carmody continued, pointing out that as the international trade system scales up, Australia’s east coast container ports would become “stranded assets” relying on trucks, exacerbating already bad traffic issues.

“I didn’t come here today to disparage other ports – in the four months I’ve been in this job I’ve been adamant that the plans for Port of Newcastle’s container terminal are about joining the world – not about competing with Botany,” he said.

“Australia has to be part of the global trade networks – it has to drop its parochialism and invest in scale and productivity, because the countries that accommodate the maxi container vessels will enjoy the world’s lowest freight costs.”

“We think it’s obvious,” Mr Carmody said, “the future of world trade is size, frequency and scale.”

“Port of Newcastle can be part of that future – and so can Australia.”

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