Sweeper ships await Sydney congestion to ease to retrieve empties

Congestion in Sydney has stranded about 50,000 TEU (twenty foot equivalent units) of empties, according to liner lobby Shipping Australia, reports IHS Media.

“Congestion will have to be worked through before sweepers can call,” the group said in a statement. “On a positive note, there are some signs that this may change at one terminal at least.”

Cargo owners have faced disruption for several months as bad weather, terminal congestion and docker slowdowns caused delays. Sydney has been the worst affected, although other ports, including Melbourne, were also hit.

“We are hoping to see some easing of the congestion with the opening up of more capacity,” said the head of a global manufacturer based in the US. “But we are hearing that vessels are being delayed. Getting empty containers loaded back to vessels is difficult.”

He said: “While Sydney is the worst, the rotation through the other ports is also facing delays. We have also had vessel cancellations in the past few weeks that came with little notice.

“At the moment, it’s less about cost and more about getting the containers loaded, moved, and delivered,” he said.

Cargo owners say bad weather, terminal congestion and docker slowdowns caused delays with Sydney being worst though other ports, including Melbourne, have been hit too.

Shipping Australia said there was a 21-day delay for some vessels calling at Patrick Terminals in Sydney, while ships calling at DP World’s Port Botany terminal in Sydney faced an average three- to four-day delay.

The Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) and the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA) said MSC and Hapag-Lloyd, are imposing congestion surcharges of between US$285 to $350 per TEU even though dockers have settled disputes.

“The lack of transparency poses many questions and frustrations, turning the spotlight away from the core industrial relations dispute to one of opportunistic shipping line practices that appear to be primarily focused on recovering costs to extend record profits reported during the pandemic and global economic downturn,” said Paul Zalai, director of both the FTA and APSA secretariat.

But Shipping Australia denies this. “Ocean shipping companies lose money and revenue-earning opportunities if empty boxes are uselessly hanging about in Australia. Accordingly, shipping lines do not want their empty boxes here; they want them on ships and on the way back to Asia to be filled up with more goods.”