Sydney’s storage areas for empty containers are full, further jamming-up Australia’s stretched supply chains.

Bad weather, vessel schedule alterations and industrial action at ports have all contributed to worsening congestion at the facilities since July.

Last month, local forwarder Sila Global said Sydney’s storage areas were “overflowing, and at breaking point”, with shipping lines “not answering phones or emails.”

And, in a message to customers today, it said the situation had gone from bad to worse, saying most of the facilities would be forced to close this afternoon.

“In this scenario, we will not be able to dehire containers until the congestion clears which will incur additional costs to importers,” said the forwarder.

“Vessel scheduling continues to be a large issue, which is now being compounded by vehicle booking system and performance issues, due to a recent upgrade, and industrial action at Patrick Terminals, as well as cancellation of stack-runs into the terminal.

“At this stage it is unclear how long the closures may last, or when this congestion will ease.”

There is a similar bottleneck in under-lockdown Melbourne, where container terminals are also increasingly congested.

“Shipping schedule integrity and late changes remain challenging,” according to Sila. “The repercussions are adding additional strains to not only Sydney, but Melbourne container terminals as well, where many lines are choosing to re-direct vessels instead of Sydney.

“Added to this there are scheduled MUA work stoppages to add to the mix.”

For example, Sila said, DP World was expecting a high volume of vessel calls over the next two weeks, operations at Patrick would be hampered by industrial action and there is a two-to-three-day wait for container pickup at VICT.

“In most cases, shipping lines will calculate the detention free-time from the first day of availability, which may not correspond to when the container was actually discharged or accessible,” the forwarder said.

In Sydney, ACFS Port Logistics added an extra 4,500 teu of empty box capacity near Port Botany, last month.

“Many shipping lines were looking for additional capacity at short notice, with a high volume of re-directions becoming the norm on a daily basis,” ACFS said.

However, with other container storage facilities due to close this month, transport operators have called on shipping lines for “detention relief”.

Neil Chambers, director of the Container Transport Alliance Australia, said shipping lines “want and need” to evacuate empties from Port Botany.

“But poor weather, berth and terminal congestion, industrial disputes and a host of other factors have led to this situation,” he added. “It’s also highlighted the lack of empty storage capacity in Sydney to handle the peaks, despite some added capacity coming onstream recently.

“Importers should be talking to their shipping lines about container detention relief – if you can’t dehire the container in a timely manner because empty parks are at capacity, how can shipping lines morally charge high container detention fees for late dehire?” asked Mr Chambers.

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