OPINION: Is container detention going to spoil the festive season?

Dear Valued Customers,

Further to our previous notices to customers on container detention please read the below opinion piece written by Paul Zalia.
It seems that container detention policies are not just a mechanism to ensure timely return of empty containers but have formed an important revenue stream for shipping lines in a tough operating environment.
Shipping lines are continuing to tighten the reigns, reducing detention-free days for the return of empty containers and showing little leniency in deviating from fixed policies.

This is placing additional pressure on transport operators to collect containers from stevedores on the first day of “availability” – an extremely difficult task with limited vehicle booking system (VBS) slots.

Compounding matters, empty container parks contracted by shipping lines operate restricted hours, generally on a Monday to Friday basis, forcing transport operators at additional expense to stage container returns.

Some shipping lines are forcing empty containers to be dehired back to the terminal and bypassing the empty container parks altogether.

A nice cost saving for the shipping lines by avoiding the use of a contracted empty container park.
However this comes at additional costs to the transport operator with PRA booking fees and the like.

Then we witnessed the latest stunt by a shipping line winding up their Australian operations and introducing a container deposit fee for their last remaining voyages.

This entails an advance payment by the consignee, and at the discretion of the shipping line, a refund payable on container dehire.

We certainly hope that other shipping lines do not follow this lead of holding consignees at ransom.
What about other factors out of the control of the consignee affecting delays?

We have ongoing issues with rail providers and stevedores at Port Botany pointing the finger at each other for delays and all are wiping their hands of covering the container detention costs.
Perhaps this is just another cost of doing business but is not a good advertisement for the use of rail which is meant to be the great hope in dealing with future growth in trade volumes.
Just to add a bit more spice, we have the re-emergence of industrial action.

Will shipping lines provide extra days for container detention or will they stick to their rigid policies?

My guess is that that they will say that they will assess situations on a “case by case” basis … good luck with that!

Why don’t the shipping lines come out and say that in these extreme circumstances that they will show leniency?

Then there is our old favourite of the Christmas / new year period with a series of public holidays when most empty container parks are closed.

From Christmas eve (traditional early finish) to Monday January 5 when some companies resume work, there are 12 calendar days but only four working days when empty parks are open (half day Christmas eve and new year’s eve).

Hence there are eight days in this upcoming period when it may be impossible to dehire.

Congratulations to Maersk Line for extending container detention rules during this period.

Will other shipping lines follow this lead or are they banking on a windfall at the expense of their valued clients?

Please share your views.
Paul Zalai – advocate for the Australian freight & trade sectors

Kind Regards
SILA Customer Service