Growth in box volumes at Freo, Western Australia

Fremantle Ports experienced a ten percent increase in box trade in the last calendar year. Pictured – Fremantle’s inner harbour with stevedore cranes (white and red) that belong to DP World and, back, red and yellow cranes that belong to Patrick Terminals. ( Photo: Shutterstock).

It’s a growth story at Western Australia’s main container port, Fremantle Ports (Freo), with just under 10 percent growth of international shipping container traffic in the last calendar year.

In total, the port at Fremantle recorded a combined import/export box throughput of 788,920, up 9.49 per cent from the 720,514 throughput recorded in the 2017 calendar year. On a mean average, the port recorded just over 65,743 boxes a month.

Freo recorded 401,645 import boxes, up 5.1 percent on the previous year’s import figures of 382,153 boxes. On a mean average, the port recorded about 33,740 import boxes a month.

The port also recorded a whopping 14.46 percent growth in export boxes to 387,275 containers, which is up 48,914 boxes on the 2017 figures of 338,361. On a mean average, the port recorded about 32,273 export boxes a month.

FreightWaves sought comment from the port for the drivers of this container growth, however no one was available to discuss the port’s trade statistics. Further details of Freo’s trade can be found below the Transparency 2019 banner.

Trade data from the 2017-2018 Australia financial year is also available. On a financial year basis (which typically runs from July 1 to June 30 to coincide with the local tax year) Fremantle Ports imported over 100,000 vehicles; handled trade worth over 28.45 billion Australian dollars ($20.54 billion); handled 769,686 20-foot equivalent containers (TEU); and 34.8 million mass tonnes of cargo.

Its top container trading partners are China (171,428 TEU); the rest of Australia (76,594 TEU), and Japan (36,864 TEU). Freo’s top three containerised imports are manufactures of metal (31,020 TEU); Furniture (27,978 TEU) and Chemicals (24,827 TEU). Freo’s top three containerised exports are hay, chaff and stock feed (45,628 TEU); waste paper (21,656 TEU) and scrap metals (16,405 TEU).

Box terminal out to tender

Containerised cargo is handled by private-sector stevedores DP World Australia and Patrick Terminals, although Fremantle Ports itself is a state-owned enterprise. There is a tender for new leases to operate box terminals at Freo and that tender has been narrowed to the two current operators according to news released yesterday (February 4th). New leases are due to start on July 1, 2019 and end June 30, 2026, although that could be extended up to 21 years

Western Australia ports minister Alannah MacTiernan comments on the lease: “Securing suitable container terminal leases is important to the economy of Western Australia. Negotiations will focus on the ability to address investment and operations plans to cater for expected trade growth in the years ahead, but also the efficiency of land transport movements of containers to and from the port. As part of this process Fremantle Ports will seek to further improve the efficiency of land transport movements of containers to and from the port, for the benefit of the community and industry. The container trade is of enormous importance to Western Australia and this tender process is being conducted in the context of deliberations by the Westport Taskforce, which is examining port and landside planning and development requirements to serve the State in the decades to come.”

Fremantle has two harbours – the innner harbour (in the city and which mostly handles containerised cargo) and the outer harbour about 11.70 miles (18.82 km) due south at Kwinana and which handles dry bulk cargoes like grain, gypsum and coal, along with wet bulks such as oil.

Freo’s truck calls

On average, according to a November 2018 truck study at the port, there are about 2,050 trucks that visit the port in a 12-hour working day.

About 21 percent of trucks observed during the two-week study were unladen trucks in a prime mover/semi-trailer configuration. Another 20 percent had the same configuration but carried one, twenty-foot equivalent unit (i.e. one TEU) and a further 59 percent had, again, the same configuration but carried two TEU (the configurations of the boxes were not given).

The study also looked at truck movements with a prime mover, semi-trailer and trailer configuration. About 22 percent of trucks in such a configuration were unloaded, three percent had one TEU, 42 percent had two TEUs and 33 percent had three or more TEUs.

About 39 percent of all box trucks serving the port had gear capable of lifting containers. The report was silent on the proportional split of cabover and bonnet trucks although photographs showed prime movers of both types entering the port.

Container truck numbers appear to be growing in line with the traffic at the port, according to truck study authors FMC Consulting. However, trucking has lost some traffic share since 2014 which saw a peak of 2,469 trucks calling at the port in a 12-hour working day. This decline may be because of a modal shift due to increased container-on-rail operations at the port. North Quay railhead was extended in 2014 and the port estimates that containers on rail have eliminated about 90,000 truck trips.

The truck study also indicated that there was “better” loading of laden trucks up from 1.90 TEU to 1.92 TEU and a lower proportion of unladen trucks – down from 24 percent to 21 percent. This resulted in 661 trucks, down 32 trucks from the previous year, being needed to move 1,000 TEU. Better truck utilisation may also explain the decline in the number of trucks calling at the port.

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Jim Wilson, Australia Correspondent

Sydney-based journalist and photojournalist, Jim Wilson, is the Australia Correspondent for FreightWaves. Since beginning his journalism career in 2000, Jim has primarily worked as a business reporter, editor, and manager for maritime publications in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. He has won several awards for logistics-related journalism and has had photography published in the global maritime press. Jim has also run publications focused on human resources management, workplace health and safety, venture capital, and law. He holds a degree in law and legal practice.