The Aotea Maersk will become the largest container ship ever to visit New Zealand when it calls at Tauranga on Oct. 4 as the port nears the end of a $350 million investment plan that has enabled its terminals to handle larger vessels.
Aotea Maersk's capacity of 9,640 twenty-foot-equivalent units will dwarf the 5,000-TEU ships that are at the upper end of the vessels currently operating on New Zealand services, according to Alphaliner.
Maersk Line will insert Tauranga on the westbound northward leg of its AC-3 Asia-West Coast South America service, a weekly service connecting Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Peru and Chile directly to New Zealand.
Alphaliner said the new New Zealand link would only be provided in the WCSA-NZ-Asia direction, but will complement the eastbound-only WCSA-NZ-Asia link offered since July on the AC-1 West Coast South America-Asia service.
The combination of the two separate services will be equivalent to a two-way Asia-NZ-WCSA loop and will make Maersk the only carrier to provide a direct bi-directional weekly service between New Zealand and the west coast of South America, operating under the marketing name, South Pacific Express. The analyst said this solution eliminated transshipment in Asia or California to connect the New Zealand and WCSA markets, greatly improving transit times.
The port of Tauranga has a long-term strategy to extend its freight catchment and consolidate its position as the country's leading freight gateway. Handling larger vessels is a key part of this focus and shipping channels have been widened and deepened, to 14.5 meters (47.6 feet) inside the harbor entrance and 15.8 meters outside the harbor.
That long-term plan also included signing a 10-year deal with logistics company Kotahi that guaranteed Tauranga 1.8 million TEUs over that period.
Port of Tauranga Chairman David Pilkington said a $350 million five-year investment program was largely complete and the port had the capacity to grow freight volume for the foreseeable future.
“Following the completion of dredging to deepen and widen the port's shipping channels, the first of these large container ships is set to visit in October. Over the long term, large ships have the potential to deliver in excess of $300 million in annual savings to the country's exporters and importers,” he said.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said theirs was the first New Zealand port able to berth ships the size of Aotea Maersk. “The efficiencies they will bring and the potential costs savings for New Zealand importers and exporters are significant,” he said.
One of the major challenges facing the country’s export trade is New Zealand’s distance from major trade routes, but port infrastructure upgrades and the consolidation of container traffic at particular ports can bring down costs for both shippers and container lines. A 2015 government study noted larger container ships cascaded onto smaller trades, to make room for mega-ship newbuilds on busier routes, will end up calling at fewer ports in New Zealand, driving up the cost of domestic freight movement.
A Shippers’ Council report recommended that New Zealand only have four deep-sea ports: Auckland, Tauranga, Lyttelton and Otago. Dredging in Auckland has not yet begun while deepening at Tauranga has been completed. The Lyttelton project is still in the planning stage and although the first stage of dredging at Otago has been completed, the second phase to allow the port to handle ships of 8,000 TEUs faces opposition from locals.
Questions have also been raised about a 40 million New Zealand dollar ($27.8 million) deepening project at CentrePort in the New Zealand capital of Wellington, as the port is not among the four deep-sea ports identified by the shipper report.
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