August 19 - Shipping Australia has released the results of a study which it believes is the first to be conducted in the break bulk shipping sector in Australia.

According to Llew Russell, CEO of Shipping Australia, the study covers the various facts, importer and shipping provider problems and perceptions of the break bulk shipping industry.

"From a wide variety of sources it was apparent that the level of awareness of this essential part of our international trade was far below that of the bulk, container and motor vehicle trades," said Russell.

SAL's study sets out many of the perceived obstacles that inhibit the sector's potential.

Russell says the aim of the study is to stimulate debate on how industry players can improve this sector's performance, although more work is required to test some of the claims and particularly a more detailed assessment of its economic importance.

"Interestingly, in the States where mining resource development was at its highest level, port and bulk facilities appeared to be the most inadequate," said Russell, adding that the conclusions reached point to a lack of adequate infrastructure, including a lack of undercover storage, shortage of labour especially with the skills required and an inequity in the operation of berth priority systems that often disadvantaged ships with break bulk cargo.

One of the more important conclusions was the need to encourage the provision of separate berths and back up areas for general cargo vessels compared to those larger vessels, primarily dedicated to the carriage of cars, trucks and agricultural equipment given their very different operating characteristics and service requirements.

A number of areas for improvement were identified, including:

- Establishing a genuinely representative consultative mechanism for all stakeholders involved in break bulk cargo in ports where it is a significant trade, to improve the efficiency of operations, e.g. the use of portable temporary warehouses where appropriate. 
- Encouraging increased competition in stevedoring and terminal management where the overall benefits have been clearly identified. 
- Keeping port authority charges at a reasonable level to ensure Australia remains internationally competitive. 
- Increasing labour availability and skill levels 
- Developing valid, workable and realistic performance indicators in ports so that port can be ranked against national or even international benchmarks and the results made publicly available. 
- Developing of port-based data community systems to provide a platform for facilitating information exchange, promote collaborative problem-solving activity and foster co-operative action in pursuit of a common objective 
- Implementation of these recommendations for improvement will encourage port authorities to upgrade infrastructure planning and development with the objective of removing current port user dissatisfaction with port congestion, berth availability, inadequate labour supply, lack of skills and storage facilities.