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Under the Bridge

There’s a small sandy beach at the Westgate Punt landing. The beach reveals its tidal nature with sea shells and crabs. Fishers enjoy the spot. It’s also a place to watch container ships go under the Westgate Bridge.

You sense them before you see them, an unnerving moving presence.

The OOCL Brisbane was leaving the Port of Melbourne on the morning of Sunday 28 February bound for Port Botany. It will reach Laem Chabang, the largest port in Thailand on 14 March. The Orient Overseas Container Line is one of about 40 commercial shipping lines to call at the Port of Melbourne. The OOCL Brisbane, registered in Hong Kong, is a frequent visitor to Melbourne.  It is a twelve year old, average size container ship. It has a capacity of 4,578 TEUs1, almost half that of the largest ship to have called at Webb Dock to date, the CMA CGA Ural which has a capacity of 10,662 TEU.

The speed at which vessels can travel in the Yarra River channel is one of many matters relating to safe navigation in Port waters that is regulated by the Harbour Master. There are many inter-related considerations which need to be calculated: the height of the tide, the keel of the ship, the depth of the channel and the height of the Westgate Bridge.

The Harbour Master is engaged by the Victorian Ports Corporation to create and oversee the framework within which safe navigation occurs in Port waters. Those matters are detailed in the Harbour Master’s Directions. The Victorian Ports Corporation was created to manage all other Port functions including channels, navigation aides, safety and emergency management – and Station Pier – when the Port of Melbourne was leased to the Lonsdale consortium in 2016.

A review has recently been undertaken of Victoria’s Port system.  Although the full government response to the review will only be released later this year, some early decisions have already been made. A new entity, Ports Victoria, will be established and based in Geelong from 1 July 2021. Together with the re-location of the Spirit of Tasmania, it is intended that Geelong will become a ‘centre for maritime excellence.’ The Harbour Master will be part of the new entity. One of the tasks for the new entity will be to grow cruise shipping.

The Port review also notes with concern the failure to secure and protect the land and access corridors required for a future port at Bay West. It recommended that this issue should be progressed as a matter of urgency.

The governance and management of the Port in Melbourne goes back to the establishment of the Melbourne Harbour Trust in 1877. Since then, the port has changed its name and its focus several times but the move to Geelong represents a profound change for Melbourne.

Recently Infrastructure Australia updated its priority list, as they do annually, to included a freight rail link from Webb Dock. They note that the growth of containers will be at Webb Dock. The scale of the increase will overwhelm the road network and therefore a rail freight link will be essential.

Here is a link to the OOCL Brisbane going under the Westgate Bridge (too large a file to post here). I was tempted to speed it up, but it conveys the speed and presence of the vessel.


Sources and More

1 TEU The twenty-foot equivalent unit is an inexact unit of cargo capacity often used to describe the capacity of container ships and container terminals. (source: Wikipedia)

Vessel finder OOCL Brisbane

Harbour Master’s Directions May 2019



  • Pat Grainger

    Thanks, Janet, for bringing to our attention these changes taking place – it's obvious they'll have a profound effect on Port Melbourne fairly soon. It's been easy to forget how significant the move of the Spirit to Geelong will be, and interesting to realise that it's only one aspect of such big changes in Port operation.

  • John Milne

    Very interesting Janet!!!

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