An Australian first — Port of Melbourne breaks three million TEU mark

Victoria’s main port is pictured in the foreground and stretches into the distance on the left-hand side of the Yarra River. The city of Melbourne can be seen in the upper right. (Photo: Shutterstock).

Australia’s busiest box port, the Port of Melbourne, broke the three million mark in handling twenty-foot-equivalent unit (TEU) shipping containers in the last calendar year.

It is likely the first time that any port anywhere in Australia has handled three million TEU in any twelve month period whether that’s on a running 12-month, financial year, or calendar year basis.

“The Port of Melbourne is a critical business gateway for Victoria and south-eastern Australia. These strong trade results illustrate the strength of our supply chain and the businesses of our tenants and customers. As private manager of the port, the Port of Melbourne is continuing to work with industry to grow the port and ensure a competitive supply chain,” a port spokesman tells FreightWaves, adding that the box trade volumes were up 7.6 percent on the previous calendar year.

The port handled, in total, 3,018,000 TEU in a year. That equates to about 8,427 TEU or so each day on a mean average.

Digging into the statistics a little reveals more about the nature of the port’s trade.

About 2.7 million TEU were handled by the stevedore (longshoremen) companies that handle the international trade; that’s about 89 per cent of all the box traffic at the port in 2018. The other eleven percent of box traffic can mostly be accounted for by the Bass Strait trade. Immediately due south of Melbourne there’s a small (relative to the continent of Australia) island called Tasmania (yes, it’s natural habitat of the Tasmanian Devil; no the Tasmanian Devil doesn’t look like this).

It’s a 253 mile (408km) trip between Burnie, the main port on Tasmania, and the port of Melbourne. It’s a particularly important bit of water for the Tasmanians because they don’t have access to international shipping services – their volumes are just too low. And so they trans-ship boxes to Melbourne to reach the rest of the world. About 250,000 TEU go over the Bass Strait; 137,000 TEU to Tasmania and about 113,000 from the island.

Then there’s a smattering of containers that are import/exported to/from Melbourne by different ways or are classified differently. A small amount of boxes may be handled on the general cargo docks and some of the boxes are classified as “coastal” boxes i.e. the are to/from other parts of Australia other than Tasmania.

A little bit of a localised monopoly

It should also be noted that the Port of Melbourne benefits from a generally growing population and economy in its hinterland while, simultaneously, enjoying little in the way of effective competition. There are no major box ports for a considerable distance in any compass point radiating away from Melbourne. There is a large box port at Adelaide, about 413 miles away in a north-westerly direction and another, Port Botany, Sydney, a little further away, some 443 miles distant in a north-easterly direction. And that geographic fact means that Melbourne enjoys a monopoly for much of its hinterland with freight being contestable only where it is located somewhat equidistantly between either Melbourne-Adelaide or Melbourne-Sydney.

The main containerised cargoes at Melbourne are typically miscellaneous manufactures, furniture, electrical equipment, miscellaneous food preparations, metal manufactures, beverages, timber, non-ferrous metals, paper and fibreboards and dairy products.

Historical data shows that the port’s box trade has generally been growing over the last ten years, except for about 2012-2013 when volumes were a bit flat around the 2.5 million TEU mark. Unfortunately, the data is not directly comparable as it is on a financial year and not calendar year basis.

Also of note is the motor vehicle trade. About 425,000 units were handled at the Port of Melbourne in the last calendar year. It is a fairly steady trade with about 103,000 to 112,000 units handled each quarter. Units in this category included new motor vehicles, transport equipment, machinery, and second hand motor vehicles.

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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.