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Bunbury changes culture of ports

THE Bunbury Port Authority is changing the commercial culture of towage services at Australian ports following its success in winning a landmark Federal Court case.

Foreign towage operators are now free to operate at Australian ports following a full bench decision which rejected Adsteam Marine’s appeal against BPA’s granting of an exclusive towage licence to newcomer Riverwijs.

The decision ends a year-long legal battle by the South West port to provide Riverwijs – a joint venture company between Riverside Marine of Brisbane and Dutch towage giant Wijsmuller – with an exclusive five-year contract and option for a two-year renewal.

It also paves the way for greater competition in the nation’s ports.

Adsteam provides towage, alone or in joint venture, at 32 of the 51 ports requiring towage services.

BPA general manager Dom Figliomeni said granting an exclusive license to Riverwijs over the incumbent monopoly service provider of 14 years, Stirling Harbour Services – an Adsteam-Howard Smith subsidiary – would minimise entry costs for the new operator.

The legal battle cost close to a million dollars, but port users were already reaping the rewards of the decision.

Since introduced on October 1, towage prices for entry and departure from Bunbury had been reduced by seven per cent and a range of more efficient work practices had been introduced such as guaranteed continuity of labour, a two-hour response for towage services and 24-hour availability of towage vessels.

“The court found that Adsteam’s litigation was designed to protect a strategic commercial position,” Mr Figliomeni said.

“It’s now up to ports around the country to make their own decisions about towage.

“There is no reason now why a towage operator from Singapore or

any other part of the world can’t come to Australia and offer its services. The main issue is that port users obtain the best service.”

Bunbury, which trades 10 million tonnes annually of alumina, woodchips, mineral sands and silica sands, received 11 expressions of interest when towage services were put out to tender in July last year.

Riverwijs executive director Ian Thomson said a natural monopoly existed at Australian ports because there wasn’t enough business to sustain more than one operator.

Sea Freight Council of WA executive officer Michael O’Callaghan said a small regional port had led the way in changing the commercial culture of towage in Australia.

“You can’t get an industry more globally attuned than the shipping industry, so if a foreign company can assist our shippers to be more internationally competitive then it is a good thing,” he said. Adsteam chief executive Clay Frederick could not be contacted.

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