4 Dec 2020

Auckland port delays see big freight ship diverted to NorthPort

From Checkpoint, 9:12 pm on 4 December 2020

The freight backlog at Ports of Auckland is turning into a serious safety issue according to truckies, with hundreds of freight containers being driven long-distance to destinations after ships have been forced to dock elsewhere.

The National Transport Forum says a freighter carrying 1300 containers is having to divert to NorthPort near Whangārei because of delays at Ports of Auckland, and all those containers will have to be trucked back to the big city.

Ports of Auckland has been under fire over major delays in clearing cargo and this week suspended its automated carriers that unload containers after one robot went rogue and crashed.

"You're going to have 1300 Auckland-bound containers in Whangārei on 6 December," Forum spokesperson Nick Leggett told Checkpoint.

"Those will have to move by road, which means probably around 2600 truck movements to and from Auckland to Whangārei. They're substandard roads, the rail is out to Whangārei until 11 January, so these all have to go on the roads."

The freight ship's diversion to NorthPort is a huge cost, he said.

"Ultimately it will be the importers that pay because the shipping line has said that this is a force majeure - they couldn't do anything about it, therefore the cost falls on the people who own the freight.

"It costs about $120 to move a container from the Ports of Auckland to a destination around Auckland. I know that that cost to move a container from NorthPort to Auckland or south could be as much as 10 times that.

"Ultimately that'll fall onto consumers. So it's not just a case of us not being able to get our goods, it's a case of actually they could be more expensive.

"And this is peak season… more people are traveling because it's going to have to go through and into the holiday period.

"Twenty-foot containers, two of them on a truck usually. This is just one example of where a ship has had to go to NorthPort in Whangārei, because it couldn't hang around waiting to get into the Ports of Auckland.

"But the bigger problem for New Zealand is if the next ship doesn't wait and goes back.

"There are imports on that ship, but it's also those ships take our exports away as well. This is critical for New Zealand - we are at the bottom of the world, at the bottom of the supply chain - we are easy to miss off.

"It will create woes for us in terms of safety on roads, there'll be fewer trucks probably in and around Ports of Auckland for quite a while, but there'll be more on State Highway 1 between Whangārei to Auckland and south into the Waikato as well.

"This is symptomatic of a major problem and New Zealand does need to get a grip of it. So I think to blame one port or one shipping line is wrong. We are feeling the effects of a congested… worldwide supply chain that as a result of Covid is under real pressure.

"What we've got to do as a country, and we've written to the Ministry of Transport… we've got to understand where the pressures are and try and anticipate them. That means involving different industries - freight forwarders, ports, road transport, rail, and getting them together around the table to try and understand where the pinch points are going to be.

"Most of us take for absolute granted the fact that goods get to us, we order something online or we go to the supermarket, that is under pressure.

"It doesn't seem that has got through to the right people in government, and we do need to see this taken more seriously," Leggett said.

Getting rail working so empty containers can be returned for export use, an having space available for freight on the inter-island ferries would help ease the congestion, he said, but also industry leaders need to be looking ahead to prepare for peak seasons in the future.

In a statement a Ministry of Transport spokesperson said: "No safety concerns have been raised with the Ministry of Transport relating to the Constantinos P container ship scheduled to berth at NorthPort.

"Should any party have any safety concerns these should be raised directly with NorthPort or with Worksafe.

"The Ministry of Transport has previously met with the Road Transport Forum (RTF) regarding the current supply chain congestion. We did receive an email from the RTF last night and will be speaking with them in the near future about the supply chain situation and the government’s work in the area."