Fremantle Ports boss Michael Parker has promised to tackle major congestion problems hitting local trade. The State Government business runs both the inner harbour container terminal in Fremantle and bulk shipments through Cockburn Sound’s outer harbour. The ports are key international arteries for the State, moving a substantial portion of WA’s imports and providing access to markets for grain, alumina and silica sands producers. The authority delivered a $46 million profit in the year to June, boosted by rising trade. But there have been concerns about gridlock at the wharves. About 82 per cent of ships visiting the outer harbour were berthed on time in the 2023 financial year, up from 70 per cent in 2022. Yet there’s still signs of continued trouble with only 45 per cent of ships docking on schedule in June 2023, according to the business’s annual report. Mr Parker told The West Australian the port authority would invest close to $100 million in the 2024 financial year to help sharpen up operations, with a promise to hit a 95 per cent on-time rate by 2027. “We don’t shy away from where there are challenges,” Mr Parker said. The punctuality pressure had a variety of causes, he said, including industrial action, weather, trouble clearing out goods on land after offloading, older assets which needed upgrading, and the pandemic. “Through COVID it was really, really challenging because vessel arrivals were really unpredictable,” Mr Parker said. Highlighting the pressure, satisfaction among shipping businesses dropped from 88 per cent in the year to June 2018 to be 50 per cent in 2023. “Where the issues are asset-related, we will make sure we invest the money required,” Mr Parker said. Approved spending for the outer harbour includes replacement of conveyor belts, better storage areas, and an ongoing project to deliver a new cement clinker circuit started in 2022. The authority was also working with contractors and users to smooth the supply chain into and out of the port. Put together, he said that would help ease congestion and improve efficiency, bringing down the cost of trade. “The more efficiency (we) drive through that, the cheaper it becomes for (customers),” he said. There’s also work under way to plan for new bulk jetties near Kwinana, as The West Australian revealed in August. That business case — likely to cost north of $100m — would need the green light from the State Government.