Flinders box volumes flat in 2018

A dry bulk vessel at Flinders Adelaide Container Terminal apparently being loaded using a container crane. The terminal has developed a system of open-topped shipping containers that can be filled with e.g. mineral sands (blue containers on the upper right). Small dry bulk ships can then be loaded by container cranes using a specialised rotating spreader. Photo: Flinders Ports.

Flinders Ports, South Australia, had a mixed bag of containerised cargo throughput results in 2018 compared to 2017, new data analysis shows.

Overall containerised throughput – which includes imports, exports, empties and boxes in various configurations – was essentially flat. Box throughput of all kinds was superficially down at minus 0.04 percent to stand at 322,558 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2018.

Digging into the collated results of the month-by-month trade data reveals some interesting aspects of the throughput at Flinders Ports, and particularly the facility at Port Adelaide, which handles the vast majority of South Australia’s containerised trade.

Import TEU
Volumes of imported boxes (all kinds) were up by 1.98 percent from 2017 to stand at 149,684 TEU. The biggest volume of imported TEU were 40-foot boxes at 91,898 TEU, which accounted for 61.4 percent of all import boxes last year. Volumes of these boxes increased by 8.73 percent on the 2017 calendar year.

The second-biggest category of imported TEU were 20-foot boxes, at 50,671 TEU, which accounted for 33.9 percent of all imported boxes last year. Volumes of these boxes increased by 5.07 per cent on the 2017 calendar year. Looking at time series data, monthly import volumes of dry boxes (both 20-foot and 40-foot) are fairly consistent month-to-month.

There were also small volumes of imported reefer boxes, 7,115 TEU (1,985 TEUs in 20-foot configuration and 5,130 in 40-foot configuration). Reefer boxes (both configurations) accounted for just under five per cent of the total number of imported TEU.

Export TEU
It’s a slightly different story on the export side. Export TEU volumes stood at 172,874 TEU in 2018, which is down slightly by 1.73 percent on the previous calendar year. A 10.43 percent fall was recorded in 20-foot dry export TEUs in 2018 to stand at 73,423 TEU. However, this was offset by a correspondingly large increase of 10.70 percent in the export of 40-foot boxes, which stood at 83,992 TEU in 2018. The figures for the export of containerised boxes dipped into negative territory owing to declines in reefer boxes in both 20-foot and 40-foot configurations.

Both the 20-foot and 40-foot export boxes had steady-ish month-to-month volumes without much in the way of large upticks or declines in any given part of the year. That said, unlike the import boxes, the monthly percentage of export boxes handled as a proportion of the total was a little lower in the first three months of the year.

There was also a small export trade in reefer boxes 15,459 TEU (2,289 TEU in 20-foot configuration and 13,170 TEU in 40-foot configuration). Reefer boxes (both configurations) accounted for about nine percent of the total volume of export TEU in 2018.

Empty boxes
Turning now to empties, there were 73,584 TEU of empty boxes handled by Flinders. The total volume of empties was 17.71 percent, down in 2018 compared to 2017. The port does not categorise empties into 20-foot and 40-foot configurations. There were 49,266 TEU of empty import boxes in 2018, down 15.01 percent on 2017, and 24,318 TEU of empty export boxes, down 22.70 per cent on 2017.

An unusual trade
Astute readers may by now have spotted something interesting and unusual about Flinders’ box trades.

Firstly, it imports fewer full TEU than it exports (149,684 TEU imported compared with 172,874 TEU exported). In the Australian box trade context that is unusual as local box ports generally import far more full boxes than they export.

Secondly, Flinders has a markedly different empties trade. Flinders imports almost double the empty TEU volume than it exports. The overall volume of empties is smaller than other Australian ports too.

A remote city and port
Some of the unusual aspects of Flinders box trades are a consequence of the physical location of the South Australian state capital, Adelaide, which is also the location of Flinders’ main box  port. Adelaide is geographically remote. While the east coast cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne are further away from Singapore (a major Asian centre for maritime container transshipment), they’re comparatively close to each other and so attract the bulk of international container shipping. The city of Perth on the far west coast is even more remote from the rest of Australia but it is relatively close to Asia.

Adelaide is none of those things. It is 400 miles (649 kilometers, or km) from Melbourne and 721 miles (1161 km) from Sydney. Perth on the west coast is even further away by road (taking into account that the Great Australian Bight is in the way). Perth is 1,564.57 miles (2,517.93 km) away. Singapore is even further away at 3,361.71 miles (5,410.14 km) and there’s the whole continent of Australia in the way.

Owing to its low volumes (compared to the east coast ports) and geographical remoteness, Adelaide needs to import empty containers to service the container needs of its local shippers.

Turning to vessel calls, there were 1,919 commercial ship calls in 2018, down 0.47 percent from the 2017 figures. These figures exclude calls by naval vessels and non-trading craft (e.g. survey vessels).

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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.

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