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Transport wheels keep turning

SHIPPING remains the major means of international freight transportation, with 90 per cent of international trade currently carried by sea, according to a recent study commissioned by QintiQ, Lloyds Register and the University of Strathclyde.

Titled Global Marine Trends 2030, the report also estimates the global shipping fleet in 2011 (self-propelled merchant vessels greater than 99 tonnes) at 103,000 vessels.

In an Australian context, peak national shipping association Shipping Australia estimates 99 per cent of international trade by volume relies on sea transportation.

"Australia's prosperity is entirely dependent upon the sea," noted CEO Rod Nairn, marking last month's World Maritime Day. "A healthy maritime industry is absolutely vital to Australia, but something that is largely taken for granted."

While maritime transportation dominates the import and export market, the movement of goods around Australia by sea (the coastal shipping sector) has enjoyed only a modest increase during the past 40 years and is today eclipsed by road and rail transportation.

While there are risks associated with all three methods of transportation, environmental considerations and active risk engineering and management are combining to make the coastal maritime sector more competitive than it has been in recent times.

Import and export statistics

As a maritime nation, sea transport contributes to the vast bulk of Australia's inbound and outbound cargo movements.

Shipping Australia figures show the 99 per cent of international trade by volume which travels by sea is valued at almost $420 billion. "Today there are more than 50,000 ocean-going vessels moving fuel, raw materials, container cargo and people around the world," Nairn said. "In Australia the maritime industry is our economic lifeblood."

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1167.3 million tonnes of cargo was moved through Australia's seaports in the 2011-2012 financial year, an 8.4 per cent rise on the previous period. It contributed to an average growth of 6.5 per cent per annum over a five-year period. Export cargo accounted for 83.4 per cent of the cargo moved in the 2011-2012 year, while imports contributed a further 8.1 per cent. Coastal freight, including loaded and discharged coastal cargo, added the remaining 8.5 per cent.

Total international cargo handled by Australian ports increased 9.1 per cent by value and 9.7 per cent by weight between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012. During the previous five years, annual growth averaged 7.5 per cent for total value and 7.8 per cent total weight. During the period, 94.9 million tonnes of cargo worth $182.2 billion was imported, an increase in value of 13.3 per cent on the previous financial year and an average 4.4 per cent, per annum, over five years.

Exports by sea totalled $236.2 billion, an increase of 6.1 per cent and a growth of 10.2 per cent since the 2006-2007 financial year.

Coastal shipping

While the total Australian domestic cargo movement has been increasing strongly during the last 40 years, the share contributed by coastal shipping has been slower .

Freight transport activity is measured in terms of tonne kilometres, the movement of one tonne in weight over one kilometre in distance. In 1970-1971, Australian coastal shipping activity was about 70 billion tonne kilometres, with road contributing 20 billion in round figures, and rail about 45 billion.

However, by the mid-1990s, land transportation had closed the gap and all three methods of moving cargo domestically were about equal, recording a little more than 100 billion tonne kilometres each. By 2009 rail transportation had surged to more than 250 billion tonne kilometres and was still showing a steep upwards trend, whereas road had reached a plateau about 195 billion. Coastal shipping by comparison, although recording a slight upward swing in the 2008-09 financial year, had only grown to about 110 billion tonne kilometres.

In other words, where rail had increased by more than 200 billion and road 175 billion tonne kilometres over 40 years, coastal shipping had only grown by a mere 40 billion.

Garry Chalkley, Technical Lead, Maritime Systems for Zurich Financial Services Australia, considers the dominance is due in part to improved road and rail infrastructure.

"Road transport took off in the 1980s, I think, possibly due to improvements in our road network, the ability to go more places, together with more competitive rates," Chalkley said.

While containerisation has revolutionised international maritime trade, it hasn't realised the same benefits for the coastal shipping sector. However, there are signs this is now changing and Cerno Marine national marine leader John Cupitt predicts a surge in maritime domestic cargo movement.

"I believe coastal shipping is starting to make a comeback now, but road and rail have certainly been at the forefront in recent times," Cupitt said.

"What the figures show with the increase in coastal trade is the economies of moving containers between ports in Australia is a lot cheaper than it used to be."

Inherent risk

There are risks associated with all forms of cargo transport, and the marine sector is no different. Everything from the loss of a vessel at sea through to petty theft, pilfering and environmental factors such as humidity can cause a loss of goods and add to other costs, such as insurance. In shipping, however, the greatest risk is in the handling of goods; the more often they are loaded and unloaded for transhipping, the greater the risk.

"The more you handle cargo, the higher your risk is of something going wrong," says Zurich's Garry Chalkley.

"The biggest risk with coastal shipping is really getting it to the wharf, loading it on the ship and getting it off at the other end. There is really minimal risk whilst it's onboard the ship."

The process of risk engineering, whereby the entire logistics chain is analysed from warehouse to warehouse, in order to minimise exposure to risk and to manage what residual risk remains, is having a valuable impact on both the amount of goods lost through damage or theft and the cost to insure.

"Risk engineering is much more the talk now; everyone we talk to is discussing risk engineering," observed Cerno's John Cupitt.

Towards the future

Environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emissions have renewed focus on forms of transportation that can minimise the impact of transporting cargo around the world.

Public concern about the number of heavy trucks on the roads around Sydney's Port Botany, for example, has resulted in the construction of an intermodal terminal facility at Moorebank in Sydney's southwest, which will transport containers by rail from the port for onwards distribution by rail or road and result in the removal of an estimated 3300 trucks from Sydney roads each day.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau figures claim rail transportation is nine times more efficient than road transport, with one train and two drivers equal to 150 trucks and 45,000 litres of fuel.

"It's really safer transporting cargo on ships, and in my view also probably cheaper; it's just the cost of loading it on to the vessel, stowing it and taking it off at the other end, which has always been a problem," Cupitt said.

"Shipping will continue to make a comeback and I think that rail will continue to grow in popularity. "

Trucks will always be there, but Cupitt foresees a trend towards using ships to deliver goods to ports and rail becoming a bigger part of our transport logistics industry.


Article by The Australian, written by Nigel Pittaway
The views expressed in the article above should not be taken as the views of, attributable to, or as endorsed by Zurich unless otherwise stated. This material is general information only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. You should seek professional legal advice before acting on any of the material above..

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