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Port battling ship scheduling

COVER STORY

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Challenging labour conditions, capacity issues at Ports of Auckland, and Covid have all played into continuing scheduling issues at Port of Tauranga, with expectations delays will not be fully sorted until early next year.

Data on global shipping to July indicates an uplift in shipping reliability after months of poor performance, with reliability levels now at 41% compared to barely 30% a year ago. This still compares poorly against pre-Covid global figures of 75-80%.

But logistics and freight company Kotahi’s latest shipping summary has Port of Tauranga, along with all other major ports in New Zealand recording a slide in shipping reliability. It reports all ports recording severe congestion, driven by weather events, vessel ‘bunching’ and lower levels of labour due to Covid infections across the country.

Overall, the effect has been to push New Zealand ports backwards in their scheduling reliability compared to the rest of the world. Tauranga fell from a relatively consistent 50% schedule reliability for much of the year, to below 40% for July.

Auckland, Napier and Lyttelton all recorded rates lower still, with Nelson the only exception for increased reliability in July.

Port of Tauranga chair Julia Hoare noted the issues the port continues to focus on when announcing its annual results in early August. She pointed to 65% of ships still arriving off-schedule and continuing delays in other parts of the New Zealand supply chain.

“Supply chain disruption continues to have a massive impact on our ability to deliver an efficient service for importers and exporters. We have done our best to incentivise smooth cargo flows and the financial results reflect that,” she said.

Vessel delays at Tauranga have increased to up to five days, and a port spokesperson said of the 16 vessels arriving at Tauranga each week on average only six are on time, and these are the ones calling direct to Tauranga.

“Ports of Auckland has said it expects to get back on schedule from March 2023, so we are hopeful we will return to better schedule reliability in the second half of the financial year,” she said.

The Port of Tauranga reported an increase in group net profit by 8.7% to $111.3 million while paying a total dividend of 14.7c a share, up from 13.5c the year before.

CEO of Kotahi David Ross said Auckland’s efforts to lift its operational capacity were a key to the entire country’s improvement in shipping scheduling.

“And Auckland is signalling their intention to be there by March, and everyone should be 100% behind that intent as it is good for NZ’s entire operations.”

The problems with port reliability have been heightened by issues around Maersk’s Coastal Connect domestic shipping network. Issues around weather in Australia and challenges portside here have meant the vessels due to participate have been delayed, with improvements unlikely until November.

Hoare also pointed to delays in resource consent for an additional container ship berth as contributing to efficiency issues.

Despite detailed planning and consultation beginning almost four years ago the port was unsuccessful in getting its application fast-tracked under government Shovel Ready projects during the pandemic.

A delayed Environment Court hearing is scheduled for early March next year. “It is incredibly frustrating after years of consultation and planning to be still ‘on hold’. Had we not had these delays, we would be finishing construction now,” said Hoare.

Port of Tauranga Chief Executive, Leonard Sampson, says the Port’s diversity of cargoes and long-term freight agreements with key customers has given some certainty through extremely challenging times.

“We are looking forward to a longer-term solution in the form of additional capacity at the container terminal, and soon at the Ruakura Inland Port that we are developing in Hamilton in partnership with Tainui Group Holdings.”

The inland port, part of the Ruakura Superhub, is due to open in late 2022 and will connect Waikato importers and exporters with the “big ship” services calling only at Tauranga.

Related: Port of Tauranga: New Zealand’s biggest international cargo gateway

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