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Australian shippers say COVID restrictions could delay container shipments

Qantas freight station at Melbourne airport remains closed

The Port of Melbourne could see operational slowdowns because of new coronavirus safety measures. (Photo: Port of Melbourne)

Australian freight forwarders and shippers, worried about the potential loss of business, are seeking flexibility from new lockdown measures to contain an outbreak of coronavirus in Victoria.

The state restrictions impact warehouses, as well as container depots, and terminal operations at the Port of Melbourne and Melbourne airport.

Trade groups are asking government officials to clarify that import and export businesses will be designated an essential service. They also are proposing alternative safeguards to workforce restrictions.

Under the state of emergency imposed this week, retail establishments and other businesses must close unless they offer delivery or curbside pickup. Warehouses and cold storage facilities can operate at two-thirds of normal staffing levels.

“There is little doubt that these measures will adversely affect operations and may cause delays in the ability of importers and logistics providers to receive and unload containers. This in turn has the potential to impact the availability of containers for our exporters who are anticipating a significant spring crop,” the Freight & Trade Alliance and the Australian Peak Shippers Association said in a joint statement. 

“We have received feedback from shipping lines that they would give leniency for container detention in the event of a complete lockdown, however, while trade is moving, they will continue to make commercial assessments on a ‘case by case’ basis,” the groups said. They urged shippers to notify their container lines of potential delays.

Government officials say they are sticking to the mandate and aggressively enforce it.

“The decision about where to draw the line on different categories of jobs can never be simple or easy, but there is no alternative but to take these steps,” Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said in a statement. “We must take unprecedented action in limiting the movement of people, and therefore limiting the movement of this virus — to do otherwise would be deadly. Unless we drive case numbers down to significantly lower levels, the Victorian economy will not be able to re-open and restrictions would continue indefinitely, forcing the contemplation of a much longer list of shutdowns.”

Warehouse operators are required to take risk mitigation measures in accordance with the COVIDSafe Plan

Meanwhile, Qantas Freight said its freight terminals at Melbourne airport remain closed at the direction of Victorian health authorities for what appears to be a positive test for COVID. It said international shipments under a government airfreight program are being cleared at another ground handling company. The company had hoped to reopen by Wednesday or Thursday but has not been cleared to do so. 

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch. / CONTACT: [email protected]


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government coverage and news analysis, and was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]