Operational update - Depots remain congested

Wednesday, March 23, 2022


Further to Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) and Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA) notices titled OMICRON IMPACTS ON LOGISTICS - Safety, new surcharges and Operational impacts from catastrophic weather events, ongoing congestion and delays exist at many depots nationally.
Since our last operational updates referenced above, the Victorian Government has been proactive in establishing a Container Storage Working Group that will hopefully deliver some practical outcomes and much need relief.

Meanwhile operational impacts nationally are being felt with Port Botany significantly worsening.

Price and Speed, a prominent Sydney-based depot, offered the following commentary this week in a customer notice:
The world is rapidly changing with full ships and when multiple ships arrive at port, cargo volumes being processed at our depot is exasperated. The last few months we have been running two shift 7 days a week to keep up with demand. We have a wide range of services including fumigation through to supervised unpacks. If a container has to be fumigated, then has to be inspected afterwards allow three to four days for the fumigation and a further five days for the unpack and second Biosecurity inspection to be completed. Unfortunately shipping lines only provide 7 days free storage and this is something that cannot be met. When volumes are high it results in landlocked containers, cargo is not collected immediately after release meaning we soon have insufficient space to unpack safely, compounding the issue.
Shipping lines are still operating under conditions that are no longer relevant on top of freight rates tripling. We realise all eastern depots, are running out of space as there is no free land in the area. As we work 24-7 I cannot ask my staff to work any harder than they currently are and if we keep offering the services required something will give as shifts require adequate staffing.

I request you all to call shipping lines and request realistic free storage days of up to 15 days to suit current trading conditions. As an industry we need to demand this.

The above sentiments have been echoed by other FTA member depot operators, ANJ Container Services and Trojan Transport.

While the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is deploying a range of significant reforms and initiatives designed to improve overall delivery, the high volume throughput is likely to remain challenging for the coming weeks.

FTA/APSA also note that many transport companies have put members on notice that regardless of the reason for any detention, cartage contractors will not accept any responsibility for any cost or charges. Whilst this is an understandable statement from transport operators, this would need to be tested in line with agreed terms and conditions between the affected parties.

In the current operating environment there will no doubt be many scenarios whereby the delay in returning empty containers within prescribed timeframes cannot be avoided. One such scenario, received from members and outlined above, relates to 'vessel bunching' which causes excessive amounts of containers needing to be cleared from the terminals prior to the three (3) day free time expiring.

This also creates a backlog at importers yards trying to unpack multiple containers and have them returned to the empty container parks (also under pressure) to avoid shipping line detention - initiated in some cases seven (7) days after discharge - NOT availability.


FTA /APSA have written to major shipping lines with all refusing our request for a blanket extension of detention free days. Most conceded they will assess the quantum of penalties on a 'case by case' basis. In some cases they have advised the problems are outside their control, while others have advised to apply for extra free time at origin.

FTA encourage members to take up the offer of shipping lines to raise concerns and to document these scenarios. Whilst we acknowledge that this will cause an extra burden on your staff to create correspondence and maintain logs of delays etc, (not too mention extra work for shipping lines in having to manage such requests with significant resource allocation) it is necessary, as all approaches to the shipping lines to create short term blanket extensions have failed. 
In the absence of any voluntary extension of container detention periods during these unprecedented times, FTA,APSA and the Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) will escalate advocacy for reform, seeking similar outcomes to those proposed in the US, to ensure reasonable container detention policies are administered for the dehire of empty containers – please refer to the recommendation 5:

  • FTA/APSA submission to the NSW Government review of the Ports and Maritime Administration Act (PAMA) 1995 and the Port Botany Landside Improvement Strategy (PBLIS); and
  • FTA/APSA submission the Productivity Commission review of Australia's Maritime System.

Paul Zalai - Director FTA | Secretariat APSA | Director GSF