Little change for Port Otago

An exporting alliance proposed by Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms with the ports of Tauranga and Timaru may have some ramifications for Port Otago.

Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms are operating the freight management company Kotahi, undertaking to boost freight through Tauranga and Timaru, and also the export freight carried by major shipping line Maersk, which is Port Otago's largest customer.

Port Otago operates a daily rail link to Timaru, in turn picking up less than 10,000 TEUs (20ft container equivalents) annually from South Canterbury. Last financial year Port Otago handled a total 80,000 containers, while Timaru hopes its numbers will return to 80,000.

Port Otago chief executive Geoff Plunket said, when contacted, a small number of containers out of Timaru was likely to be affected, but Port Otago intended to keep the daily rail service in operation.

''This won't be hugely significant for us.

''Any loss from Timaru in likely to see gains elsewhere ... there's still growth in the Otago-Southland region, and extra production capacity,'' Mr Plunket said.

He did not expect the volume of southern exports across Port Chalmers wharves from Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms to be affected by the freight alliance with Timaru.

Maersk indicated yesterday if Port of Tauranga goes ahead with channel deepening, the first of the large 6500 TEU ships could arrive in Tauranga in ''two to three years''.

Mr Plunket was asked if Port Chalmers would then become a feeder port to Tauranga.

He said it was too early for ''speculation'' on that happening, given the first 6500s could be at least three years away.

Maersk Line managing director Gerard Morrison said, when contacted, Kotahi's announcement yesterday ''will not have any effect''on current Maersk calls to Port Chalmers.

On the question of Port Chalmers becoming a feeder port to Tauranga, Mr Morrison also said it was ''too difficult'' and too early to say if that scenario could develop.

''Customers tell us where to pick up their cargo,'' he said.

Mr Morrison said that before the end of the year, Maersk expected to have 2900 TEU vessels calling at Timaru. Its terminal will have an extra 52 vessels calling each year.

Mr Plunket said while this would give South Canterbury exporters ''another option'', it would take some time for them to consider the pricing and transit times, and whether that service suited them.

Port Otago maintained four direct overseas services, including a last-port-of-call service, which goes direct to Singapore and Malaysia, Mr Plunket saidDCB International director Mark Willis said the Kotahi freight commitments to Tauranga, Timaru and Maersk were a ''bittersweet'' scenario for Port Otago.

It was ''bitter'', in that Tauranga would attempt to get as many containers as it could ''out of Timaru''.

However, it was ''sweet'' for Port Otago, in that it now had the opportunity to get its planned dredging operations under way.

He emphasised that while Lyttelton was Port Otago's competition, aside from its own dredging, it also had issues of tides and also its overall rebuild to get under way.

For Timaru, the extra container work would be a ''game changer'', as it was extending marshalling yards, getting a new container crane and preparing for a workload boost.

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