15 Feb 2018

Port of Westport to close to foreign shipping

3:21 pm on 15 February 2018

The port of Westport is to be closed to foreign shipping.

Westport Harbour.

Westport Harbour. Photo: Google Maps

Buller District Council voted last night to revoke the security status of its port, which means ships from overseas will no longer be able to enter the West Coast town.

It follows moves by the council to take over the port's operations from next month, after the current operator Westport Harbour Limited is wound up.

Mayor Garry Howard said the council was aware of public concern about the port's future, but there was little point in keeping its designation as a port security area, which is a Maritime New Zealand requirement for international shipping.

"We've had barges that have gone to and from Australia and we've had the occasional visit by small cruise ships, but it's been some years since either of those have occurred," Mr Howard said.

Westport would remain open to fisheries operations, but regular dredging of the harbour and its entrance would cease.

The council agreed last year to sell the dredging ship Kawatiri, which has lain idle since cement manufacturer Holcim left Westport the year before.

Mr Howard said then that the council did not want to burden ratepayers with the cost of its upkeep, pegged at about $1 million annually.

Members of the public are concerned that the lack of regular dredging will expose the town to heightened risk from flooding from the Buller River.

Mr Howard said reports to the council show that dredging removes only a minimal amount of material compared to the amount sluiced out by heavy rain.

The dredge was still on the market and he did not think the council's decision to revoke its security status will sound a death knell.

Any new commercial activity would re-activate dredging operations, Mr Howard said.

Westport Harbour Limited - a subsidiary of a council holding company which is currently responsible for the port's operations - is expected to be wound up by the end of March.

A harbourmaster and harbour manager would be appointed once the council took over the port's operations, he said.