THE cost of last week’s truck blockade at Fremantle port, sparked by a dispute between truck drivers and stevedores from Patricks and P&O over truck turnaround times, could be in the millions of dollars.
And there is concern of another blockade around the busy Christmas period if truck drivers’ concerns are not met in the coming weeks.
Fremantle Ports estimates that $10 million worth of trade goes through the port each day.
That means the three-day blockade delayed $30 million worth of trade.
However, the true cost to exporters and importers is hard to calculate because the delays could result in the loss of contracts.
They also face the prospect of further delays.
One group feeling particularly concerned is hay exporters, who fear talk of further delays could result in their Japanese customers turning to alternative suppliers from the US and Canada.
While the blockade is over for now, there is still a lot of clearing up work to be done.
Ships that were alongside were not able to load their cargoes and those ships visiting with goods had to leave them on the docks.
Shipping companies were also unable to move empty containers to their off-port container yards or bring empty containers to the wharves.
The blockading truck drivers were only allowing refrigerated containers and livestock trucks to enter and exit the port.
Maersk Sealand and K Line both had ships affected by the blockade.
Maersk’s Sven Jorgenson said one of his company’s ships had to leave behind half of what it had expected to load.
“We’re trying to find space for it this week but that could be difficult,” he said.
Mr Jorgenson said the costs from the delays could be substantial for importers and exporters.
Western Australia’s largest headquartered shipper, MSC’s assistant State manager Kevin Cooper, said its ships had not been affected by the blockade because they had not been coming into port or alongside when it happened.
However, he said there was concern about whether the backlog of cargo could be cleared from the wharves in time for the next ships.
With the blockade over, truck drivers and the two stevedoring companies have undertaken a two-week trial of unloading methods. The first week of the trial will involve the truck drivers’ preferred first-in-first-out method. The second week will involve a booking system proposed by the two stevedores.
Transport Workers Union organiser Tim Dawson said truck drivers were facing an average of a four-hour wait to either offload or load cargo. In some cases that weight could blow out to more than six hours.
“The stevedores have not been able to turn trucks around quickly enough,” he said.
Mr Dawson said one of the unions biggest concerns with the slow turnaround times was the stress it put on drivers who did not get paid while they were waiting to shift cargo.
He said the union would give the trials a fair chance and allow some extra time to make sure a system could be established to alleviate drivers’ concerns.
“But if it doesn’t get fixed there could be another blockade,” Mr Dawson said.
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