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Australian Container Ports Must Improve Productivity

With forecasts for trade volumes at some ports to rise from 2.75 million TEU to 8 or 9 million TEU, there is a pressing need for Australian ports to improve their productivity.

According to data from the ACCC Container Stevedoring Monitoring report, Australia’s average crane rate is currently around 28.1 boxes per hour per crane. Globally, the average ranges from about 22 box moves per hour per crane for smaller vessels to 25 box moves per hour per crane for vessels of approximately 13,500 TEU. However, average figures hide extremes.

In July 2015, the Port of Haifa in Israel set a productivity record of 319 box moves per hour, with six cranes working on one ship. That translates to around 53 box moves per hour per crane, which is twice the Australian average crane rate. The ACCC also says that the Port of Tauranga in New Zealand consistently outperforms even Australia’s best ports.

Although 28 boxes per hour per crane may not sound too bad, some ports only move 12-14 boxes per hour per crane. Meanwhile, the best ports hit around 30 box moves per hour per crane. This disparity is a concern.

Why does it matter?

The per hour per crane rate makes a significant difference to the number of hours taken to unload a ship and, as such, makes a huge difference to the direct costs borne by each vessel. When a vessel is not moving, it still costs money to run. In the current market, a non-sailing 6,000 TEU ship costs in the region of AUD$111 every minute.

Below par performance also results in compounding delays. If a ship is late to one port, it arrives even later to the next port and so on and so forth. Ships then must move faster to make up time, burning a larger amount of fuel and further increasing cost.

In some cases, the only way to make up time is to skip ports and reduce service. This results in a huge reduction in supply.

What next for Australia’s ports?

It is clear that Australia’s container ports must look to improve their productivity – and soon. Global examples prove that the average box moves per hour per crane can be much higher than current performance in Australia.

Ports must:

  • Look to address physical barriers to putting more cranes on ships
  • Address persistent workforce and industrial relations issues

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