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Healthiness of port competition queried

COMPETITION is alive and well within WA’s ports.

However, Fremantle Port Authority CEO Kerry Sanderson said competition could lead to over-investment in infrastructure that could increase costs.

“My own view is potential competition is better than actual competition,” Mrs Sanderson said.

“Potential competition makes you focus on your customers.”

Fremantle competes with other capital city ports – particularly Melbourne – for Adelaide trade.

It also competes with Esperance for northern Goldfields cargo and Bunbury for cargo to and from Alcoa.

The ports in both Albany and Bunbury are seeking container handling facilities.

Bunbury Port Authority CEO Dom Figilomeni said the port was chasing a shipping line to use Bunbury as its terminal instead of Fremantle.

“There is some interest out there at the moment,” Mr Figilomeni said.

Mrs Sanderson said container handling systems were expensive to install.

“Fremantle is really a small player in the world container trade. This year we’re expecting to handle around 300,000 tonnes of containerised cargo,” she said.

“Singapore, for example, handles around 16 million tonnes of containerised cargo a year.

“Therefore, adding Bunbury or Albany to the routes will hurt.”

Mr Figilomeni said Bunbury was not looking to pay the millions necessary for container handling equipment.

“We’re focussing on a self-sustaining vessel that will use Singapore as a hub port,” he said.

Esperance Port Authority CEO Colin Stewart said the competition between WA ports was serious.

“In Esperance’s case there has been the possibility of the iron ore cargo from Portman Mining, that we handle, going to Kwinana,” Mr Stewart said.

“Our friends in Geraldton are hopeful of taking some of the nickel concentrate cargo from the northern Goldfields.”

Esperance handles between 200,000 tonnes and 250,000t of nickel concentrate each year.

Albany’s port also competes with Esperance for grain from Lake King and Lake Grace.

Mr Stewart said competition made WA ports sensitive to port charges.

“It’s not like we run a discount month but we do keep tabs on what each other is charging,” he said.

Mr Stewart said ports also competed on how quickly they could load or offload vessels and the size of vessels they could

handle.

“For example, the port of Esperance has a deeper draft than Geraldton,” he said.

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