Melbourne ready for big box ships

The word on the street is that Melbourne is big box ship ready The word on the street is that Melbourne is big box ship ready

The port of Melbourne is about to open its doors to larger container vessels, according to local sources.

For only the second time recently, Melbourne lost its status as Australia’s No. 1 container port and a decision to open up the port to larger container vessels will undoubtedly be welcomed by all the key players along the supply chain, not least cargo shippers and shipping lines.

Ironically, while Melbourne has traditionally been Australia’s leading port in terms of annual container volume it has been painstakingly slow to facilitate larger container vessel access and has paid the price for this with Sydney overtaking Melbourne as Australia’s largest volume container port by teu volumes.

In 2016-2017, Sydney handled 2.5m teu (+4.8%) and Melbourne handled 2.4m teu (+2.6). Both Sydney/Port Botany and the port of Brisbane were ‘big ship ready’ before Melbourne. In Sydney, for example, in November 2016 NSW Ports reported the arrival of the 8,540 teu capacity Maersk Seroja Enam at Port Botany.

Possessing an overall length of 316 metres, beam of 46 metres and average draft of 12.7 metres the vessel called at the Patricks’ terminal in Botany Bay. NSW Ports noted at the time: “NSW Ports expects to see these larger container vessels visit Port Botany in the future. Container vessel sizes are increasing.”

Brisbane, the third ranked port in Australia, has progressively handled larger and larger vessel sizes ranging from the Lloyd Don Carlos in November 2016 to the Susan Maersk in October 2017. The 8,500 teu capacity Lloyd Don Carlos features a length overall (LOA) of 335 metres, and the 10,308 teu capacity Susan Maersk has a LOA of 347 metres and beam of 42.8 metres. At the time of the visit of the Lloyd Don Carlos, Roy Cummins, chief executive of Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd (PBPL), said: “As vessels increase in size and demand grows for Australian ports to take these larger vessels, PBPL has taken a firm view that in the future, Port of Brisbane will never be the limiting factor on the east coast of Australia.”

The port has achieved this goal via a comprehensive package of measures including the application of underwater keel clearance technology which safely facilitates access for these vessels.

Access parameters

Melbourne has been seen as the blockage on the east coast of Australia to the deployment of the more economic, larger capacity and more modern vessels with improved safety features. This has not been due to a lack of technical initiative which has been underway for some time but instead viewed as due to a toxic cocktail of bureaucratic, commercial and other reasons that have led the port to be agonisingly slow to meet market requirements.

But now, informed sources indicate that new parameters regarding vessel access are set to be introduced in Melbourne.

Swanson Dock (home of two container terminals) will accept vessels of to 300m in length – with some exceptions - up to a maximum of 320 metres, maximum beam of 42.8 metres, and up to 98,000 metric tonnes displacement, which is approximately 12 metres mean draft. A typical teu capacity would be in the range of 6,500-7,000 teu.  Studies are also underway to facilitate access of vessels of up to 8,000 teu and larger displacement tonnage via use of berthing aid technology as at Webb Dock.

At Webb Dock (Victoria International Container Terminal) the parameters for the first stage are vessels of up to 335 metres LOA and 42.8 metres beam (possibly also 300 metres length, 49 metres beam), with a maximum 118,000 metric tonnes displacement, approximate to 13 metres mean draft. For the second stage, ships of 347 metres LOA, 49 metres beam and maximum of 140,000 metric tonnes displacement will be permitted through the use of berthing aid technology.

When fully implemented these new arrangements will also serve to complement recent investments in the port, which include the new A$650m fully automated Webb Dock terminal and three new cranes for the DP World terminal in Swanson Dock.


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