Bunbury offers challenge

THE Bunbury Port Authority is fine-tuning a battle-strategy designed to take container business away from the port of Fremantle.

Bunbury Port Authority general manager Dom Figliomeni said a series of reforms made the bulk commodity port “ripe for containerisation” and within years Fremantle could lose up to 20,000 containers now sourced from the southwest.

A Fremantle based ship management company and a Singapore owner of small ships were considering the viability of a service that would save south west shippers at least $200 a tonne on road transport costs to the metropolitan area.

“Who knows we may even get to a stage where shippers closer to Perth start to see advantages in using us over Fremantle,” Mr Figliomeni said.

“We don’t have to contend with any of Fremantle’s traffic congestion problems and our growth will not be restricted by rising urban development.”

When Business News asked if it was realistic to expect container ships to call at Bunbury, two hours drive from Fremantle, Mr Figliomeni suggested a niche service could materialise within 18 months.

Local businesses, including a company that shipped 30,000 tonnes of goods in containers through Fremantle, had informally pledged to use the service.

“Some may think this is pie in the sky stuff, but all I will say to them is watch this space.”

Mr Figliomeni said new benchmarks in efficiency enabled him to concentrate on achieving growth for the port which traded 10 million tonnes annually of alumina, woodchips, mineral sands and silica sands.

Since 1994 port manning levels dropped from 50 to 13, stevedoring rates were slashed by 30 per cent, towage rates by 10 per cent and costly ship delays no longer occurred.

Outsourcing, which began on July 1, 1999 when P & O Ports was awarded contracts for stevedoring, maintenance, mooring and pilotage transfer, had fast tracked changes to the port’s entrenched industrial culture.

Under new arrangements workers employed with the contracted firm had commercial and legal obligations rather than just industrial ones.

“It doesn’t matter whether or not a worker is a member of the Maritime Union of Australia,” he said.

“If they don’t provide the service, the contractor won’t get the business next time.”

Mr Figliomeni said port contractors provided $100,000 bank guarantees to be accessed if their performance agreements, which included continuity of service clauses, were not met.

Open book arrangements ensured profits above a certain level were returned to port customers.

More far-reaching change came in September when a landmark Federal Court Case rejected towage giant Adsteam Marine’s appeal against the granting of an exclusive licence to newcomer Riverwijs.

The million-dollar court battle to licence the joint venture between Riverside Marine of Brisbane and Dutch Towage giant Wijsmuller paved the way for foreign competition in Australian ports and Fremantle was showing signs of taking the same path.

Riverwijs’s five-year contract with a two-year renewal option - with an estimated value of $4 million annually - had been a catalyst for three-man tug crews in Australia and more efficient work practices.

Round-the-clock services with two tugs were provided with nine employees as opposed to 16 under the incumbent provider of 14 years, Adsteam Marine subsidiary, Stirling Harbour Services.

Mr Figliomeni cited an example of improved efficiency in a ship agent’s success in gaining towage services within 25 minutes of a request. Under previous arrangements there would have been a wait of at least several hours.

“Of course the road to reform has been fraught with battles and I have been subject to my fair share of hostility. But, if I go into battle I intend to win it.

“Yes, there were guards of honour outside my office and a bunch of flowers with a very nasty note was dropped on my doorstep at home one day.”

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