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Suicide caused shutdown of Patrick ocean container terminal

Patrick Terminals in Sydney, Australia, shut down for about 19 hours over Monday, July 8 and Tuesday, July 9 after a worker tragically committed suicide.

Patrick Terminals, one of the major maritime container terminal operators in Australia, shut down its Sydney terminal from 6:00 p.m. on July 8. Workers returned to the terminal at 2:00 p.m. on July 9. The terminal re-opened for business at 3:00 p.m. according to a text message that was sent to trucking operators at the time. Patrick sent notices to industry informing them of the disruption by at least 6:54 a.m. on July 9, although other notices may also have been sent earlier.

Industry sources say that one of the waterfront workers, in his early 40s, had not shown up to work for a few days and could not be contacted. His workmates became worried and went to his house. Unable to contact him, they broke through his front door and discovered the missing man. He was dead.

Local police told FreightWaves that a brief will be prepared for the coroner after officers attended a deceased male in his early 40s at a unit in Maroubra, Sydney, on Monday. The death did not appear to be suspicious but only a coroner has the authority to definitively rule on the cause of death.

Traumatized workforce

“The workforce have been devastated,” one source told FreightWaves, adding that the people he had spoken to had been “traumatised by another person being found dead.”

The source said that several “younger” people from that workforce have died in recent years due to tragic circumstances. These include cancer, motor-neurone disease and, in one case, a fall from height ultimately caused by diabetes.

FreightWaves understands that Patrick Terminals called-in Employee Assistance Program counsellors. And owing to the distress displayed by several of the shift workers, it stood down several disrupted shifts.


FreightWaves has been told by several sources that the death was a suicide.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the industrialized world. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian men between 30 to 49 are the most likely age and gender to die by suicide.

Around the world, men suicide at three times the rate of women. Photo: Shutterstock

About 11 percent of all deaths by suicide in Australia are men aged 45-49. That’s followed by men in the 30-34 or the 40-44 years age bracket. Both age cohorts each account for 10.3 percent of all deaths by suicide.

The Bureau says that about 80 percent of all suicides have “co-morbidities” as contributing death factors. These include mood and mental disorders, depression, drug and alcohol dependence and acute intoxication.

Australian men die from suicide at three times the rate of women, even though women attempt suicide more often. It’s a similar situation in the United States. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention notes that men die by suicide 3.54 times more than women. There are several reasons commonly put forward as to why. 

One confirmed reason is that men tend to choose more immediately lethal methods of self-harm, such as by using guns. Other reasons theorized by gender and sociological researchers suggest that suicidal men have high levels of intent to succeed in killing themselves, which may be rooted in cultural and gender-based views of suicide.

You can find some resources to help you at the foot of this article if you, or someone you know, is struggling with thoughts of suicide. There are also resources if you are affected by the suicide, or the potential suicide, of another person.

Disruption and costs

Containers from the following ships were affected by the Patrick shut-down. These were the Maersk Skarstind, SC Mara, ANL Warrnambool, Sphene, MSC Elma, Frisia Aller, Charlie B and the Maersk Lome.

Shutdown has led to extensive disruption, especially as the other main terminal operator, DP World Australia, is currently in the middle of a strike. A trucking industry representative pointed out that trucking company schedules would be immediately disrupted. Clearing the backlog will require a significant effort by the trucking industry which will have put managers, administrative staff, truckers and yard workers on extra hours to cope. All of that comes at a cost, because, with the possible exception of managers, the trucking companies will likely have to pay overtime rates.

Redirecting a box, especially to a third-party depot is very costly, truckers say. Photo: Shutterstock

Other trucking industry operators gave an indication of the out-of-pocket costs of disruption. One trucking operator told FreightWaves that if a terminal booking is made at 06:00 a.m. and it is cancelled a couple of hours later then it will cost A$300 (US$208) to redirect the box and temporarily store it in the depot of a third-party.

The trucking operator added that the cost of a redirection for a trucking operator based in the Outback would be in the region of A$800 to A$1,200 (US$553 to US$830). Another source said that redirecting a truck and semi-trailer would easily cost A$75 (US$52) per hour.

Trucking operators are also worried that they will have to pay penalties to shipping lines for what are known locally as “container detention fees.” Shipping executives describe this as hire for extended use of a container. Whether described as penalties, fees or hire, shipping lines will charge money until they get their ocean shipping boxes back. Trucking executives have called for a free extension of time because they cannot physically return the boxes when the terminal is shut. Shipping representatives will not discuss such fees/hire and say that commercial considerations of this nature are decided by each individual shipping line.

Decision to shut down is questioned

Shipping and trucking executives immediately expressed condolences and sympathies for the deceased and his family.

And they also questioned why the terminal had to shut down. 

One ocean shipping executive accepted that terminals have to shut down for police and safety inspections if a worker dies on-site. But, in situations where a worker dies off-site, then large, complex organizations working in industries like international trade should have business continuity plans and should be able to continue operations.

The ocean shipping executive said that shipping lines pay large amounts of money to terminal operators in the expectation that when the ship arrives there will be a working terminal. The executive also pointed out that shutdowns and other disruptions impose a variety of costs on the shipping line for which it is not compensated.

Patrick Terminals called a temporary halt to operations. That decision has been questioned by industry. Photo: Shutterstock.

Trucking executives have somewhat similar views. A trucking executive told FreightWaves that his organization had an incident in the past when a colleague had died. While conceding that some time was taken to attend the family funeral, trucking operations continued and the business did not shut down for the day.

One source speculated to FreightWaves that the likely real reason for the shutdown was “out of respect to the MUA.”

The MUA is the highly militant and active Maritime Union of Australia

A regulated port

A complicating factor is that the relationship between terminal operators and road carriers is regulated at Port Botany (the port in which the Patrick Terminal is located). Back in 2008 there was extensive ill-will between trucking companies and marine terminal operators. Truck waiting terms were “unreasonably long,” according to the local government regulator, Transport for New South Wales.

According to a 2008 study, the total weighted average truck turnaround times in the study period of May 2007 could be as long as 119.4 minutes at the Patrick Terminal. Marine terminal operators were unable to service trucks within the booked times owing to a lack of clear rules and bottlenecks at the port, which also caused congestion on public roads.

The state government of New South Wales passed the Ports and Maritime Administration Regulation 2012 to regulate performance and access.

Terminal operator liability for failure to meet performance standards

Among the very wide number of effects it has on the industry (both on road carriers and terminal operators) is to impose penalties for a failure to meet mandatory performance standards. Regulation 34(2) imposes a fine on the terminal operator of A$100 (US$69) per road carrier if the terminal operator cancels a booking. While A$100 might seem like a small amount of money, it’s going to add up and quickly as there are about 350 road carriers, according to Transport for NSW. Those carriers operate in and out of Port Botany dropping off and picking up ocean shipping containers multiple times per day.

Part 3 of the governing regulation allows the state minister for transport to set mandatory performance standards. Clauses 14.4(a) and 16.1(a) say that marine container terminal operators must not cancel bookings unless it is due to an “unforeseen event.”

Get out clause: the “unforeseen event”

And, if the cancellation is because of an “unforeseen event”, then the terminal operator does not have to pay any compensation.

Patrick has declared the July 8-9 shutdown as an “unforeseen event.”

But just because the terminal operator has declared the shutdown as “unforeseen event” it does not mean that the shutdown was officially an “unforeseen event”. Nor does it mean that Patrick actually gets to be the party that formally and officially declares an incident to be an “unforeseen event.”

FreightWaves has been told by sources that it is the local regulator, Transport for New South Wales, which decides whether or not a particular incident is an unforeseen event. The terminal has to send a report to the regulator for approval to treat the incident as an “unforeseen event”.

As of late Wednesday July 10, Transport for New South Wales had neither approved nor rejected any application.

At this point, it looks like Patrick does not have solid legal grounds to call the event as an unforeseen event. 

There is a technical dictionary in Schedule 1 of the Mandatory Standards which says that an “unforeseen event” includes such things as accidents or natural disasters (fire, flood, storm, cyclones, etc.); acts of war or insurrection (rebellion, civil war, riot), or any order of a government agency.

However, there is nothing in the Mandatory Standards that even remotely suggests that shutting down a terminal to allow the workforce to grieve could be an “unforeseen event”.

Note: FreightWaves contacted many informed sources during the research of this article, however, owing to the sensitive nature of this story, they all asked not to be attributed.

Do you need help?

There is help, support, and someone to listen to you if you, or if someone you know, is having suicidal thoughts. Photo: Shutterstock.

If you are having thoughts of suicide you can find help, support and someone to listen to you.

In the U.S. you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. You can also go to the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. People who are, or may be, affected by the suicide of another person can also find help at the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Readers in Australia can call “Lifeline” on 13 11 14. There is also a crisis support chat option, online resources and details of a text service at the Lifeline website.

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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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