16 Mar 2023

Government spends $2.75m to set up Hawke's Bay, Tai Rāwhiti coastal shipping route

12:52 pm on 16 March 2023

The government is spending $2.75 million to set up an emergency shipping route for Hawke's Bay and Tai Rāwhiti, including chartering a vessel for three months.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and Regional Development Minister Kiri Allan made the announcement on Thursday while visiting Gisborne.

Allan said the investment would help get products including vegetables, meat, wool, timber and wine out of Gisborne and to the market. The road link between Gisborne and Napier was currently more than nine hours by truck.

The funding will go towards chartering the vessel Rangitata, owned by the company Coastal Bulk through $2.25 million set aside for underwriting the Eastland Port. This would cover three months of usage at $750,000 per month, for the charter, crew, insurance and fuel.

Another $250,000 would be spent on accelerating the Gisborne Port wharf rebuild, allowing the Rangitata to berth while export log ships were also being loaded and a further $250,000 would go towards election connection points for reefer containers used for meat processing.

"Without government support, this coastal shipping capability between regional ports would not have been available to New Zealand," Allan said.

"This investment in the blue highway will also speed up recovery efforts, allowing for the swifter delivery of construction and rebuild materials into the East Coast."

Hipkins said the new coastal shipping route was a partnership with the private sector, and built on previous government investments in coastal shipping.

"The private sector are going to be running the shipping, we're going to be providing a backstop to enable them to do that. In terms of where the demand is, that's an issue for them to work through.

In the future, this coastal shipping link could be extended further - to Tauranga and the South Island, he said.

"It's a really good early step as we start to move towards a more fulsome recovery from the cyclone."

The Rangitata will arrive in port about midday on Monday.

MP for Napier Stuart Nash, who on Wednesday resigned as police minister, was present too.

Hopes 'blue highway' will fill gaps

Hipkins said the government had in recent years been making sure it was investing in coastal shipping, and the "blue highway" could play a bigger role in helping get goods to market and support businesses to function even with the recent disruption.

"If you look at the investments we've made in coastal shipping already, one of the reasons that we've done that is that we were aware of our resilience challenges as a country and we are aware of the potential for extreme weather events to have a significant impact on our land-based transport network.

"Coastal shipping can help provide some answers to that, which is why even before now we've been investing in coastal shipping to make sure we've got the capacity and the capability to do that."

Allan said Coastal Bulk had last year been one of the four recipients of the government's $30m Coastal Shipping fund.

"Thirty million dollars went into these alternative routes, the request for it to extend up into the Tai Rāwhiti, it's been a discussion led by business to which the government has responded.

"I think you can see a clear trajectory of this government investing in this, alternative transport resilient options."

Hipkins said damage from Cyclone Gabrielle to infrastructure - including the roads - was very extensive and would not be fixed overnight.

"We still need to be able to move things around and so where the roading network and the rail network can't supply us with all of the things that we might have relied on in the past we need to look to alternatives.

"Coastal shipping, the blue highway can actually fill a significant part of that gap that we've got at the moment ... I think that's going to make a big difference."

Allan said she acknowledged the people who have been driving the response on the ground in the last four weeks, "whether it's been feeding our people, whether it's been supporting our people, whether it's been out beyond the land, clearing it, working alongside those that have been impacted".

Hipkins said he planned to return to Gisborne and other affected areas regularly to ensure people were not being forgotten. His trip on Thursday includes a visit to Wairoa after his previous two attempts to see the town, which was cut off by the cyclone, were cancelled by bad weather.

He said he was hoping for third time lucky.

"Obviously it's a nice sunny day so hopefully the weather won't get in the way.

"It's also a great opportunity because we're travelling via road to check out a few other things along the way and review the extent of the damage.

"As we reach this part in the process, where we start to actually see some momentum behind the recovery, we know we've got a lot to look forward to."

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