Australian shippers say COVID restrictions could delay container shipments

Aerial view of the Port of Melbourne, which could suffer work slowdowns because of new COVID safety measures.

Australian freight forwarders and shippers, worried about the potential loss of business, are seeking flexibility from new lockdown measures to contain an outbreak of coronavirus in Victoria.

The state restrictions impact warehouses, as well as container depots, and terminal operations at the Port of Melbourne and Melbourne airport.

Trade groups are asking government officials to clarify that import and export businesses will be designated an essential service. They also are proposing alternative safeguards to workforce restrictions.

Under the state of emergency imposed this week, retail establishments and other businesses must close unless they offer delivery or curbside pickup. Warehouses and cold storage facilities can operate at two-thirds of normal staffing levels.

“There is little doubt that these measures will adversely affect operations and may cause delays in the ability of importers and logistics providers to receive and unload containers. This in turn has the potential to impact the availability of containers for our exporters who are anticipating a significant spring crop,” the Freight & Trade Alliance and the Australian Peak Shippers Association said in a joint statement. 

“We have received feedback from shipping lines that they would give leniency for container detention in the event of a complete lockdown, however, while trade is moving, they will continue to make commercial assessments on a ‘case by case’ basis,” the groups said. They urged shippers to notify their container lines of potential delays.

Government officials say they are sticking to the mandate and aggressively enforce it.

“The decision about where to draw the line on different categories of jobs can never be simple or easy, but there is no alternative but to take these steps,” Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said in a statement. “We must take unprecedented action in limiting the movement of people, and therefore limiting the movement of this virus — to do otherwise would be deadly. Unless we drive case numbers down to significantly lower levels, the Victorian economy will not be able to re-open and restrictions would continue indefinitely, forcing the contemplation of a much longer list of shutdowns.”

Warehouse operators are required to take risk mitigation measures in accordance with the COVIDSafe Plan

Meanwhile, Qantas Freight said its freight terminals at Melbourne airport remain closed at the direction of Victorian health authorities for what appears to be a positive test for COVID. It said international shipments under a government airfreight program are being cleared at another ground handling company. The company had hoped to reopen by Wednesday or Thursday but has not been cleared to do so. 

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