Shipping container shortages, delays at ports cause headaches for exporters and importers
Boxes of citrus are piling up in the cool rooms at Seaway Intermodal in Merbein in Victoria’s north west.
The oranges and mandarins should be bound for export markets but shipping delays and the coronavirus pandemic are making it more challenging this season.
Ros Milverton from Seaway Intermodal said there were major issues in the supply chain at the moment.
“In recent years we’ve had fewer shipping lines calling through Australia, although they’ve been larger vessels, but when they call less often it does create more complexity to make sure we meet the market,” she said.
“This was happening a bit prior to the pandemic but with overseas port issues since then it’s proved really difficult to manage export programs.”
Mildura Fruit Company’s general manager Perry Hill agreed that shipping had not been great for the past couple of years.
“It just creates so many problems because suddenly you’ve got a build-up of stock, you’re paying for cool store for that stock, so you’re trying to slow the harvest down, so it’s not a great position to be in,” he said.
Mr Hill said some of the big ports in China have had issues along with Singapore, which was a key port for transhipping fruit to other markets.
“At this stage, we haven’t had great hold-ups in those ports but when you have big loads you can get some serious delays,” he said.
Shipping containers hard to find
Seaway Intermodal was also finding it difficult to source refrigerated shipping containers.
“Once we get availability of containers, then the other trick is finding plug space on the vessels where the refrigerated containers can continue their cold treatment right through to market,” Ms Milverton said.
Seaway Intermodal runs a rail service to the Port of Melbourne three times a week and Ms Milverton said sourcing empty containers to bring back to Mildura to meet orders was a daily challenge.
“You need to keep trying to get on to the shipping lines to put pressure on them to find out where the available containers are, constant with notifying us of vessel changes,” Ms Milverton said.
Other commodities feel pain
Ms Milverton said it was not just citrus exports that were being impacted.
Almonds from the region were also struggling with vessel changes and shipping container availability.
“Also I understand our import team is having trouble getting space, you might see products in short supply for Christmas,” she said.
A food importer said it was bracing for the sea freight rates to continue increasing.
Mukesh Pahwl from Sabrini Foods said a container that cost $600 pre-COVID was now worth $2,000 and could reach $4,000 and beyond.
“Everybody has to increase prices, whoever is the first one will get the bad limelight, it’s a competitive world,” he said.
Ms Milverton said it was unlikely the issues would go away completely when the pandemic ended.
She has raised these concerns with the government but conceded they probably were not a high priority.
“Continuing to get shipping lines to call to Australia and see us as an important destination is critical to keep on that international front,” Ms Milverton said.
“All of the shipping companies are internationally owned so it’s hard to get any sort of traction in that space.”
Source: ABC News