All’s ship-shape in Freo’s inner harbour

• Australia’s first encounter with a container ship, the Encounter Bay, which stopped in at Fremantle 50 years ago just as then-premier David Brand opened the new container terminal. Photo courtesy Fremantle Ports

FREMANTLE PORTS CEO CHRIS LEATT-HAYTER, refutes claims Fremantle’s inner harbour is past its use-by-date.

PEOPLE who read the Thinking Allowed about Fremantle’s Inner Harbour (“An efficient WA container terminal? Herald, January 26, 2019), might have got to the end and felt a little deflated about our harbour’s capacity and its future.

Ray Forma argued the inner harbour is ‘past its use-by-date’, a ‘bottleneck’ and the international maritime industry is about to bypass Fremantle because it’s apparently not capable of adapting to change.

While it was a thoughtful column, I’m pleased to reassure Herald readers the inner harbour has much life left in it and rather than being ‘past its use-by-date’, is performing extremely well.

On many scores the inner harbour is one of Australia’s best performing container ports, with the most efficient crane rate and truck turnaround time of all Australian capital city ports.

We put a higher percentage of containers on rail than any other, and the proportion’s been growing.

Mr Forma claimed the inner harbour can’t accept new Panamax ships of more than 8400 TEU (twenty foot equivalent containers), because the harbour does not have the necessary 16m draft.

Our close analysis of the world container economy and discussions with the major shipping lines does not suggest that the “very large” container ships will come on to the Australian trade route in the near future.

However, we are expecting the ship sizes to get somewhat bigger in the short term and have the ability at our existing facilities to handle ships of up to 350m length and 14.5m draft. These vessels can carry up to 9500 TEU.

Right now our inner harbour can handle all container vessels currently visiting Australia.

The new Panamax class of container ships are active on major northern hemisphere routes where the trade volumes are significant but are not expected to be considered for the Australian trades for some years.

For that type of ship the Australian container route economics don’t stack up, based on Australia’s relatively modest overall trade volumes when compared on a world scale.

For the much larger container vessels to call at Australian ports, other capital city ports, not just Fremantle, would need to deepen their drafts and undertake other major investment.

Mr Forma’s column also speculated our ship-turning capability is limited. We have no issues turning large ships in the inner harbour basin and doing it safely and effectively.

We are also capable of reversing larger ships out of the inner harbour if required. Reversing ships is a common practice overseas, but it simply hasn’t been required here yet.


Innovation and change have always been hallmarks of Fremantle’s port. For over 100 years the port has addressed many opportunities and challenges and we continue to do that.

Fifty years ago on March 28 1969, the first international container vessel called at an Australian port and that port was Fremantle.

We have adapted since then to continue to serve container trade as it has grown and changed.

Fremantle was the first harbour in Australia to introduce dynamic under-keel clearance technology for import vessels, and we use cutting-edge shore tension mooring equipment.

So that brings us to the future.

Mr Forma indicated the Westport study is only looking at Cockburn Sound as the place for new container terminal. In fact, the next stage of Westport’s work will be examining options for Fremantle, Cockburn Sound and Bunbury.

As part of this work it is appropriate to look at the ability of the various port options to handle the “very large” ships in a future planning sense and we are supportive of the Westport process.

In the meantime, until any future port facility is decided upon and built, we will work to ensure the inner harbour continues as a high-performing, versatile and effective container port to appropriately serve the state’s community and business sectors.   

One response to “All’s ship-shape in Freo’s inner harbour

  1. I have been informed by a marine engineer involved in many Western Australian costal developments over the past 50 years, that any new port should be NORTH of Perth to minimise environmental impacts and maximise integration with existing road and rail infra-structure.

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