Having been closely involved with the international shipping industry serving the Australian trades for over 40 years, I have rarely seen such a blatant cash grab by a major container port dressed up as addressing a serious logistics problem.
I am referring to the NSW Ports Port Botany empty container scheme to be introduced from 1 July. I can only conclude the scheme has been hatched without any industry consultation.
If the scheme had applied in April of this year, the load discharge ratio would have been 0.948 and a 50% penalty would have applied to wharfage on empty containers. This would have amounted to additional wharfage revenue of just under $612,000 for that month alone.
NSW Ports is well aware that shipping lines are doing everything they can to repatriate empty containers to meet the increased demand for imports into Australia and particularly Sydney which has always been imbalanced as far as imports versus exports are concerned.
Traditionally around 57% of containers loaded in Sydney have been empty. Interestingly, this percentage in April was 63%. The shipping lines have even chartered very expensive sweeper vessels to pick up empty containers in Sydney and in other capital city ports.
The response form Shipping Australia in DCN on 27 May refers to these efforts and correctly points out that lines have every incentive to reposition empties as quickly as possible to the import source areas overseas to earn revenue.
How many empties can be loaded on a particular voyage depends on many factors including ensuring vessel stability and importantly load/discharge arrangements in other ports. Where possible, the maximum number of empties are loaded.
Consultation with the industry would have certainly been of benefit in discussing the possible ramifications including other possible solutions to the empty container park problem that do not involve additional costs for the industry.
I would urge NSW Ports to defer introduction of the scheme for at least three months to facilitate consultation with their customers.
Llew Russell, AM