5368.0.55.018 - Information Paper: Experimental Statistics on International Shipping Container Movements, 2009-10  
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Governments and industry make huge investments in transportation, including ships, port facilities and associated rail and road facilities. In a time of rapid growth in long distance freight and rising fuel costs, decisions about these investments need to be informed by a variety of quality information. A nationally consistent set of statistics about the international and domestic intra- and inter-state movement of shipping containers would be of great benefit to those making decisions about transport infrastructure and related capital expenditure. This paper only focusses on a subset of these statistics – the movement of international containers. Statistics on these containers on a consistent basis will assist planners and policy makers to focus investment in transport infrastructure where it is needed most urgently.


Improved information about international shipping container movements is important for a range of policy drivers including:

  • Transport infrastructure planning including Australian seaports, freight hubs, roads, railways and access corridors around ports.
  • Regional development including how goods are transported from regional areas to ports (for example, some containerised goods from South Australia are transported by road and/or rail to Sydney or Melbourne and then loaded onto international carriers).
  • Security policy development and design that takes into consideration the complex domestic and global environments, and involves the application of security measures, risk assessment and new technology and processes at appropriate points in the supply chain.
  • Reforms in freight, shipping and trade, which make the most of the increasing and changing nature of the freight task in order to boost participation and productivity.
  • Significant improvement in logistics productivity.
  • Predict future trends in freight statistics, and resulting demand for infrastructure.

The availability of international shipping container movement statistics could be used in a number of studies including:
  • Container origin and destination case studies.
  • Improving understanding of the number of import containers transported from port of arrival to customers and the movement of export containers from postcode of origin to the port. This information about the volume and modes of transport would be useful to those developing policies to improve the performance of ports, particularly on the landside of ports.
  • Development or refinement of coastal shipping to minimise long distance road and rail transport.
  • Modelling the impact on the environment if rail replaced road transport and/or coastal shipping replaced both rail and road transport.


A range of stakeholders including Commonwealth agencies, state agencies, port authorities and industry associations have expressed a high level of interest in international shipping container movement statistics. As a result of the demand from these stakeholders, the possibility of using information reported to Customs and Border Protection to produce container statistics has been investigated.

Discussion with a number of these stakeholders identified a range of different data needs but a common requirement was for information on container movements that includes:
  • Number of containers standardised to a 20 foot equivalent,
  • Value of container contents, and
  • Gross weight (including payload weight and net container weight) of container contents, cross classified by:
    • Type of container
    • Commodity transported
    • Australian postcode of origin/destination
    • Overseas country of origin/destination
    • Port of loading / discharge
  • By month (based on arrival/departure date).

Most of the data required to satisfy the above needs can be obtained from information provided on documentation to Customs and Border Protection.

To progress the investigation into container statistics Customs and Border Protection provided the ABS with a dataset relating to imported containers. This dataset met most of the needs identified by stakeholders except Value, Gross Weight and Overseas Port of Loading. The fields in the dataset were:
  • Tariff Classification Number - the eight-digit tariff classification applicable to the goods entering Australia. This can be converted into a Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) code using the appropriate correspondence.
  • Container Count - the number of containers delivered to an individual postcode where the month, port of discharge, container size, cargo type and source document are the same. For certain cargo types this can be a fraction of a sea container.
  • Container Size - the size of the container (either 20 or 40 foot) as reported on the Sea Cargo Report in the Customs and Border Protection Integrated Cargo System (ICS). Where a container length is not reported (for example 0000) the methodology developed by Customs and Border Protection assigns a size.
  • Twenty Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) - the standard unit for counting containers of various capacities and for describing the capacities of container ships or terminals. One 20 foot ISO container equals one TEU. One 40 foot ISO container equals two TEU. The TEU is derived using methodology developed by Customs and Border Protection. Please refer to the section Number of containers - Twenty Foot Equivalent Units in the Methodology section of the Explanatory Notes for more detailed information about TEU.
  • Delivery Postcode - the postcode provided on Custom’s Import Declaration document for the Australian address for the delivery of the goods.
  • Discharge Port Code - the universal abbreviation of the names of Australia's seaports.
  • Description of the discharge port - the full name of each discharge port, e.g. Melbourne.
  • Port Aligned - the grouping of Australian ports into 21 of the major ports.
  • Year, Quarter and Month - the different time periods for the financial year.
  • Estimated Arrival Date - the estimated date that a vessel is expected to arrive at an Australian port.
  • Importer identifier - Australian Business Number of the importer or the Customs client identification code of the importer.
  • Cargo Type - this will be one of the following:
    • FCL - Full Container Load: containers where all the contents are consigned to one entity. There is only one consignment in the container.
    • FCX - Full Container multiple house bills: sea cargo containers where a container has all the contents consigned to one entity in Australia, and where there are two or more consignments within the container.
    • LCL - Less than Container Load: is a consignment that does not occupy the full space available in a container. The consignment has been consolidated, that is, packed into a single container, with one or multiple other LCL consignments. These consignments must have at least two different consignees in Australia, that is, the container holds the goods of more than one consignee.

It may be possible for future datasets provided by Customs and Border Protection to include a limited number of additional fields, including Gross Weight, Container Type, Overseas Port of Loading or Customs Value.

In relation to commodity, the Harmonised System (HS) is a 6-digit hierarchical classification designed by the World Customs Organization for the classification of internationally traded goods that pass their country's customs frontier. The HS provides codes for over 5,000 commodities. For Australian imports the 6-digit HS is extended by two additional digits for duty purposes and another two digits for statistical purposes. For Australian exports, the 6-digit Harmonised System is extended by two additional digits for statistical purposes. The current file includes the 8-digit level of the import classification. Some stakeholders would prefer the most detailed level of the commodity classifications to be used, that is, 10-digits for imports and 8-digits for exports.

Feedback included that value information would only be useful if gross weight was also available and that the data would lose most of its usefulness if Australian postcode of origin / destination was not available.

Care needs to be taken when analysing/interpreting the data presented. For example, a postcode may not reflect the actual origin or final destination of a container. It may reflect the transhipment of containers at an intermodal terminal. This may particularly apply to some goods that are containerised and then taken by road to Sydney or Melbourne for export.