Port in a Storm – Questions remain over shipping deal

*pictured The Searoad Mersey II in Devonport*

THERE are more unanswered questions and concerns just days out from the start of Tasports’ new shipping arrangements for King Island.

Tasport-owned Bass Island Line will move to a weekly shipping service between King Island and Devonport from Monday, dropping its Victoria port call due to financial losses and concerns over viability.

However, the company is yet to provide a pricing structure or more information about how the new service will work.

TasPorts has announced that the King Island freight to and from Victoria will be transhipped in Devonport using Searoad and maintains that moving freight on and off the island will be seamless.

This means BIL’s shipping agents will organise all logistics for customers who are transhipping goods between King Island and Victoria.

This will also mean customers only receive one invoice.

Despite this, booking agents on the island and BIL agent Tas Cargo was not able to provide answers regarding the costs to King Islanders wanting to use the service after March 14.

Freight forwarding operators have also been unable to provide information to King Islanders on how the Federal Government supported Bass Strait Freight Equalisation Scheme (inter- and intra-state) applies and how businesses will apply it. King Island Mayor Julie Arnold is worried.

“So contrary to what you may have been told, the changes have not had the major backing by our community,” Ms Arnold said.
“Unfortunately, Bass Island Line, don’t consider our community or our residents in the street as their customers.
“I think it’s unethical to decide to do something based on some customers who may have a vested interest.
“Maybe you have an ethical responsibility to the people that are going to be disadvantaged and you have to bear the costs.”

There is also community anxiety around insurance liabilities and animal welfare.

While cattle farmers appear to be happy about the shift to Devonport and potential cost savings, others who use mainland stock for genetic and herd diversity require more information around cattle holding and transfers.

TasPorts Chief Operating Officer Stephen Casey has said there will be cost savings for those shipping between King Island and mainland Tasmania.

“Pleasingly, we have been able to achieve a reduction in rates for the King Island/ Devonport leg,” Mr Casey said.
“Approximately 70% of the freight task will benefit from a reduction in cost on this leg.
“As an example, customers transporting a heavyweight container or reefer, up to 26 tonnes, will benefit from a more than $600 saving between King Island and Devonport, including the return of an empty container.”

It’s a different story for those wanting to ship freight interstate.

“There will be an increase in rates for cargo requiring transhipment to Victoria however, we have worked hard to ensure these rates are fair and reasonable,” Mr Casey said.
“Importantly, in assessing the best transhipment model, the transport of dangerous goods and time sensitive freight were key considerations.
“We believe the seamless transhipment arrangement will deliver the best solution for customers.
“BIL is actively working with its customers on the transition and is committed to providing a financially sustainable shipping service which meets the needs of the King Island community.”

Earlier this week the John Duigan ship transported its first load of cattle in 18 months.

It was destined for JBS and discharged in Bell Bay, not Devonport.

It’s also been reported that Eastern shipping has in the past week been impacted by Covid, highlighting the need for two ships.

Tasports has indicated that if there is sufficient demand an additional sailing may be considered.

And while Tasports has deemed the first trials undertaken by the John Duigan using the $2.4 million upgrade to the Devonport port roll on roll off ramp a success there are concerns around the cost and the space provided.

The new ramp was constructed on the Port of Devonport’s western side of the Mersey River, south of Devonport Berth 5 West.

While TasPorts is upbeat about the new ramp, it is understood the build incurred a $750,000 variation for a drawbridge to go over existing gas pipe works.

A TasPorts spokesperson said the approved budget for the ramp was more than $2.4 million, with the project forecast to fall within this budget upon completion in coming months.

The Courier has been told there are also concerns around the design of the Devonport ramp area including that there is only a 2000sqm yard space.

By comparison, the paved area of Grassy Port where the containers get help is about 10,000sqm.

This does not include other areas of the port where stock trailers, cars and machinery are parked, and fuel handled.

There is close to 20,000 square metres of yard space at Grassy and often that’s not enough.

“The yard area leased by BIL for operations at Devonport 5 West has been determined, in consultation with the stevedoring company,” the Tasports’ spokesperson said.
“It is adequate for the operational requirements of BIL, however there is an opportunity for expansion if required.”

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