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50 years since international container trade started

Fremantle Ports is celebrating 50 years since the start of the international container trade in Australia, with Fremantle the first port to receive a vessel.
  • Port Operations
  • Shipping
  • trade
  • Published 27 Mar 2019
13 - Encounter Bay arriving 28 March 1969

Fremantle Ports is today celebrating 50 years since the start of the international container trade in Australia, with Fremantle the first port to receive a vessel.

The first purpose-built fully-cellular container ship for international long-haul trade, Encounter Bay, berthed at Fremantle on 28 March 1969. The ship’s arrival coincided with the opening of WA’s first container terminal by then-Premier, Sir David Brand.

Containerisation was first developed in the United States in the late 1950s, though the world’s first purpose-built container ship, Kooringa, was built in Australia in 1964 for the Australian domestic trade routes.

Fremantle Ports CEO Chris Leatt-Hayter said containerisation revolutionised the maritime industry worldwide.

“It was a massive change to the way goods were handled, as ports moved from labour-intensive handling of bulk cargo to a capital-intensive mechanised approach.”

In the lead-up to March 1969, Fremantle Ports made extensive up-river extensions, building the new 12 Berth container terminal, reconstruction of other berths and new port accesses at both North Quay and Victoria Quay.

In 1970, the Port of Fremantle handled around 50,000 container movements (twenty-foot equivalents) but last year handled 769,686.

Encounter Bay in 1969 could carry around 1500 containers, while the largest container ships visiting Fremantle today are capable of loading 9000 containers.

About 92 per cent of all manufactured imports come into WA via the Port of Fremantle.

“Everyone knows what a shipping container is, but they don’t often think about how central these standardised steel boxes are to people’s lives, in terms of transporting most of the everyday items we see in our homes, workplaces and our lives in general,” Mr Leatt-Hayter said.

The Fremantle Inner Harbour continues to grow its trade and can handle the largest container ships servicing Australian ports.

From July this year, it expects to receive even larger container ships of 347m long, each able to carry 9500 containers (TEU). 

The Port of Fremantle has Australia’s fastest crane rate, best container turnaround, best truck turnaround and puts a larger proportion of containers on rail than any of the five major Australian ports (22.4 per cent in February this year).



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