Pandemic plays havoc with shipping

Shipping containers are stacked up at the Port Otago terminal, at Port Chalmers, yesterday. PHOTO...
Shipping containers are stacked up at the Port Otago terminal, at Port Chalmers, yesterday. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Port Otago and shipping lines are making changes to container movements as the peak export season faces global disruption.

Port Otago chief executive Kevin Winders said while there were few delays moving imports through Port Chalmers, exporters were facing issues in the supply chain.

"I’m sure they’d like to pack a lot more containers and get them to market," Mr Winders said.

Three ship services — Maersk, Hamburg Sud and MSC — usually come into Port Chalmers every week.

However, vessels were continually off schedule, due to volatility in the supply chain, he said.

A Port Otago customer notice yesterday said the effect of vessels being overbooked and early container packing was causing congestion in the container yard.

Port Otago was prioritising space for cargo to be loaded on upcoming vessels.

The container schedule for Maersk ships would reflect a two-week outlook, to provide clarity on confirmed vessel berthing at port.

The windows in which containers would be received would also be shortened.

Disruptions had meant, for example, there would be one week with only one ship, no ship for seven days, then six ships wanting to come in a week, Mr Winders said.

"That’s the sort of volatility of the schedule that we are dealing with here," he said.

"That’s the same for a lot of ports around New Zealand at the moment."

The network was out of sync because of delays in Auckland, Australia and globally.

Shipping was congested at some ports.

Some shipping lines were blank sailing, omitting ports to ease jammed schedules.

Last year, MSC stopped calling at Port Chalmers for four consecutive weeks, Mr Winders said.

"It had to blank to get back in cycle with some of the other ports," he said.

Port Chalmers was at peak export season and significant volumes were trying to get to market.

Maersk head of Oceania export market My Therese Blank, in Sydney, said the shipping line was changing the rotation of ports of call to manage demand.

Port delays in Auckland, Tauranga and Australia were having a flow-on effects in the south.

Containers needed by exporters in the South Island were stranded elsewhere.

A new service would be launched in March to move them south, Ms Blank said.

Maersk had removed many services from Auckland to find alternative ways to connect cargo.

Vessels stacked waiting to berth in Australia, Auckland and Tauranga were then coming at the same time, causing more pressure on terminals, she said.

Ship calls had been pushed back one week to get them on schedule.

"That is what is really hurting the industry, because then we essentially have one week less capacity," Ms Blank said.

Silver Fern Farms said global supply chain issues that had hampered the company late last year were becoming more challenging.

The meat exporter said last week

global logistics were unlikely to return to normal before the middle of the year, after the peak season for sheep and beef.

Port Otago’s biggest customer, Fonterra, said despite "hard yards" for a number of months, it had continued to operate at almost 99% container availability with good access to vessel space.

A small percentage of the dairying company’s exports went through Port Otago, Fonterra director global supply chain Gordon Carlyle said.

bruce.quirey@odt.co.nz

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