Sydney Empty Container Park Congestion Spikes

Empty container park congestion has spiked again in Sydney in recent weeks, leaving importers and
their transport providers incurring added costs from empty de-hire delays, yard storage of empties, futile
trucks trips, and additional administration.

The congestion and delays come off the back of a relatively positive month in June when over 80,000 TEU
(Twenty Foot Equivalent Units) of empties were evacuated by shipping lines through Port Botany, with a
Load/Discharge Ratio of 1.07*

Unfortunately since then, weather events in Sydney have led to unforeseen reductions in the movement of empty containers away from Port Botany, leaving the main Empty Container Parks (ECPs) at or near
capacity. The ECPs have not been able to accept additional empty equipment for their client shipping
lines and are asking importers / transport operators to contact shipping lines for de-hire alternatives, which are not forthcoming.

Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) Director, Neil Chambers, noted that “the empty container chain in NSW is unfortunately broken. It takes only slightly higher import volumes, caused in large part by off-window vessel arrivals and bunching, and larger container exchanges from those vessels, coupled with delays due to weather events or other issues impacting on ECP capacity, and the system becomes chaotic and unsustainable.”

“Trucks are literally driving from ECP to ECP looking for a de-hire location, only to be told by ECP
operations staff that they aren’t accepting that equipment anymore due to capacity constraints, or that a
redirection has been notified. This is despite the transport operator having a valid Notification Window slot booking through the Containerchain truck-arrival notification system which aren’t being accepted in good faith.”

“Messages about redirections come via email and change quite often. Sometimes, redirection messages
don’t get sent at all or are time delayed, meaning trucks are being turned away at empty container parks,
even though that is the ECP nominated by the shipping line on the Delivery Order (DO).”

“The Containerchain platform was implemented over a decade ago with the promise that the heightened
information visibility and exchange would make futile truck trips a thing of the past. There has been an
abject failure on the part of shipping lines, empty container parks, and Containerchain itself to address
these issues and have the functionality embedded in the technology used appropriately to address these
concerns.”

“Plus, when empty de-hire redirections occur between container terminals and ECPs, the vehicle booking
platforms (1-Stop, Containerchain and Hutchison’s Truck Appointment System (TAS)) don’t exchange
information directly. This means that fleet allocation errors can be easily made, adding to the embedded
inefficiencies in the empty container management chain.”

“Another completely untenable situation is that transport operators are being asked to contact shipping
lines directly for an alternative de-hire location because little forward planning has been done to identify
alternatives before a redirection takes place, or before a notice is posted that ECPs have reached their
capacity for that shipping line’s equipment.”

“It’s extremely difficult, time-consuming, and inefficient to contact the shipping lines, with calls going
unanswered during office hours or no one of authority available after hours.”

“CTAA has been sent numerous email exchanges with shipping lines where they have been unable to
advise an alternative de-hire option, yet they are also reluctant to issue immediate waivers or extensions
to container detention fee policies even though they cannot offer adequate de-hire capacity.”

“The upshot is that costs for empty container management have skyrocketed, and delays have become
acute.”

“Plus, importers and transport operators are having to argue the toss with the shipping lines down the
track when container detention invoices are issued.”

“The shipping lines say that they will only review each case on its merits, with the onus of proof falling in
the lap of the importer and transport operator. What a joke, when the issue is clearly shipping lines not
planning to ensure that they have contracted sufficient de-hire receival capacity in the first place.”
Many transport operators have needed to implement additional fees with their customers to recoup the
added costs of empty container handling, yard storage delays and futile truck trips.

Also transport operators have revisited their terms & conditions requiring their import customers to provide sufficient business-days’ notice of empty container availability for de-hire, and clauses regarding any acceptance of container detention liability in the current circumstances.

“Unfortunately, we are drifting from one crisis to the next in NSW in the management of empty containers through Port Botany. Additional ECP capacity is on the horizon … some in the short term, others in a longer timeframe. These initiatives are very much welcomed.”

“But we seemingly struggle to get any traction with improving the physical flow through:

  • Better electronic data exchange;
  • Better use of the underlying functionality of our information exchange systems;
  • Better planning by some shipping lines of their empty evacuation plans and contracted ECP capacity; and
  • Some simple civility among ECP operators in:
    • accepting valid, existing truck arrival notifications despite possible redirections or capacity constraints;
    • giving as much notice as possible of redirections or facility closures; and
    • having proactive interaction with transport operators if they aren’t able or willing to honour existing slot bookings.

* The Load/Discharge (L/D) Ratio measures the number of TEU imported through Port Botany, full or empty, in each month, against the number of TEU exported, full or empty. A Ratio above 1.0 means that more TEU were exported than imported in the month, while a Ratio below 1.0 shows that less TEU were exported than imported, meaning that a build-up of surplus TEU is occurring.

Information sourced from here.