The delays have raised serious animal welfare concerns with livestock on partly loaded vessels subjected to long waits at sea.
The incident involved the live-stock carrier Al Shuwaikh, which was booked in to load in Frem-antle on Saturday, April 14 after been part loaded in Adelaide.
The Fremantle Port Authority (FPA) was advised of the vessels intended schedule well in advance.
But the company representing the Al Shuwaikh, Rural Export and Trading (WA) was only told the Thursday before it arriving in Fremantle that the berths set aside for livestock vessels were occupied by a vessel discharging steel and that its operation wouldn¹t be completed until midnight of April 14.
That meant the Al Shuwaikh could not berth until first light on the Sunday with loading operations to begin at 7.30am at the earliest.
But on Saturday night a cold front crossed the WA coast, which forced the unloading of steel to stop until Monday.
The Al Shuwaikh could not berth until Tuesday morning April 17 to start loading, which left it sitting off Fremantle for three days with livestock on board.
Rural Export and Trading (WA) general manager Mike Gordon said priority needed to be given to livestock vessels, especially those partly loaded.
³Parts of the port are now out of bounds to livestock vessels and partly loaded vessels only have access to two berths,² Mr Gordon said.
³If a larger ship is loading at one of those two berths, you cannot get another vessel in there so effectively there is only one berth available at times.²
³The steel ship was loading at one of those berths, but due to the size of both vessels, the Al Shuwaikh was unable to fit on the second berth which caused the delay.²
Mr Gordon said when he first entered the industry 25 years ago live exporters could choose from pretty much any berth except those assigned to cargo.
³The FPA seem to be influen-ced by community sensitivity rather than catering to the trade,² he said.
³They seem to have missed the animal welfare issues and political sensitivities surrounding the live trade at the moment and are treating us the same as any other cargo ship.
³We are dealing with live cargo not inanimate cargoes and priorities need to be provided.
³No consideration is been given to the nature of our cargo.
³The other thing is that livestock can be loaded in any weather conditions, so if we had been given priority there would have been no delays.²
Mr Gordon said the port facilities were shrinking and live export was been pushed out.
³Livestock vessels only have access to four berths and if they are already part loaded then they can only load at two berths,² he said.
³With the increased level of shipping going through the port this is simply not enough and these problems will continue to occur if something isn¹t done.
³These delays are putting undue pressure on the industry and could lead to exporters avoiding loading in WA.²
WA Live Exporters Association chairman John Edwards said if a berthing delay led to a reportable level of onboard livestock mortalities at any stage of the voyage, a rigorous Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) investigation would follow and in defence of the industry, the exporter should be compelled to introduce Fremantle Ports actions as a mitigating factor.
³Welfare is the catch cry of the State and Federal governments these days in anything to do with the live export industry and I find it absolutely ludicrous and totally unacceptable that we continue to be treated with such disdain over the handling of livestock cargoes out of Fremantle,² Mr Edwards said.
³The FPA is not listening to exporters demands for a more workable strategy to be put in place that will better manage the timely allocation and berthing of livestock vessels, particularly those arriving from the east with part cargoes.
³There is also no serious consideration been given to retai-ning live exports through the Fremantle Port in the longer term or, more importantly, considering real options of a timely move away from Fremantle to an alternative port.²
Mr Edwards said the State Government must be forced into action over the future of WA livestock exports.
³They need to put aside poli-tical and commercial indifferen-ces and allow the trade to move forward with a port facility in an area such as Kwinana that is con-ducive to the trade¹s operations and enable it to further utilise the commonality of having existing export quarantine depots in close proximity and being serviced by a road network that is already aligned to catering for heavy transport operations into the Kwinana industrial area,² he said.
Emanuel Exports was one export company directly affected by the delays at Fremantle Port.
Emanuel¹s export manager Gary Robinson said the sooner the trade moved from Fremantle the better.
³It is no longer appropriate for livestock vessels to be loaded at Fremantle Port, but calls for assistance to move are falling on deaf ears,² Mr Robinson said.
He said the berthing policies enacted by the FPA had increased the amount of traffic coming into the port through Fremantle and ultimately resulted in a negative impact on animal welfare.
³These delays have large logistical and organisational implications,² he said.
³Delays also have huge cost implications for vessel charterers, owners and exporters and those implications will be felt at the farm gate if the situation is not resolved.²
Mr Robinson said further delays in the future may prompt vessel charterers to take ships elsewhere.
³It is a real possibility that if they believe there are going to be delays at Fremantle that they will simply bypass WA and head to Adelaide or Portland to fill their boats,² he said.
Mr Robinson said the James Point development should be enacted upon immediately.
³This alternative is the best for all concerned,² he said.
³We need designated livestock loading facilities and James Point would provide a marked improvement in access to feedlots, shorter transport times and a more efficient service overall.²