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Australia's Fight Against Stinkbugs Causes Delays for Car Carriers

Port of Fremantle with a ro/ro in harbor
File image courtesy Wallenius Wilhelmsen

Published May 7, 2023 9:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

Australia's fight to keep invasive  stinkbugs out of the country caused a slowdown for ro/ro operations in the first quarter, according to top operator Wallenius Wilhelmsen - and the firm's terminal services division benefited handsomely by helping out with fumigation and decontamination. 

"The tight biosecurity regulations in Australia created significant congestion challenges for our shipping and terminal operations. On the flip side, we benefited from the biosecurity measures by delivering extensive decontamination services. This diversification of our operations proves the robustness of our business model," said CEO Lasse Kristoffersen. 

Australia has kept its fields, farms and orchards free of the brown marmorated stinkbug, a foul-smelling and invasive pest native to Asia. The bug has already invaded North America and Europe, but strict biosecurity controls have so far prevented it from finding a new home in New South Wales, where it would have a devastating effect on agriculture - particularly on fruits and vegetables. 

According to the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, the maximum possible damage that brown marmorated stinkbugs could inflict on the state's fruit and vegetable industry could be up to US$800 million per year. To keep that from happening, Australian customs carefully inspects incoming cargo, parrticularly during the peak infestation season - September to April. 

In several cases, biosecurity officials have ordered infested vessels to depart for other countries in order to be fumigated before returning, according to Freightwaves. Other ships face extended delays for fumigation and inspection before they can complete their cargo deliveries. Cargo that has already been offloaded may also be subject to delay, and imported vehicles have been particularly affected. At one point in April, there were 8,000 infested cars awaiting decontamination in southeastern Australia, according to local media - and some end customers had to wait as long as 300 days for their new car to be delivered. 

"This is another one of those strange consequences of Covid, where because of the supply chains being disrupted we've had thousands of cars in other countries sitting in paddocks and things like that ?waiting for boats to be ready," Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt told 9News.
"And in the process, they're picking up these kinds of pests and diseases and we just simply cannot afford to have ?those things come into our country."

NSW also maintains monitoring traps in key ports in case any new arrivals make it through the cordon. There have been breaches before: brown marmorated stink bugs infested a warehouse district in western Sydney in 2018, but the authorities managed to fully eradicate them with an extensive control and monitoring campaign.