Port keeping the essential trade going

A truck leaves Port Otago on Friday with the container ship Maersk Innoshima behind. PHOTO:...
A truck leaves Port Otago on Friday with the container ship Maersk Innoshima behind. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Port Otago is down to its core business: getting essential items into and out of Dunedin.

That has meant a reduced number of port workers had continued their jobs in what were risky conditions and Port Otago chief executive Kevin Winders said he knew they would be concerned about it.

"It’s not easy for them having to go home and talk to their families about being an essential worker and why we’re doing it.

"I’m sure there are still a lot of hard conversations that are being had. It’s not easy for our team."

The work was important for the region, Mr Winders said, as it kept key regional exporters going and made space for what needed to come in.

Flow of cargo outbound was mainly dairy, meat, fish and apples.

"Those customers are still continuing, some of them [are] fairly key exporters for our region.

"Our timber processing customers are all locked down ... we’re running at about 70-80% of a typical level we’d expect at this time of the year."

The Government changed rules around allowing the Port to move non-essential cargo from the port, such as logs.

"The export log industry had been deemed and still is deemed non-essential and has stopped.

"But sensibly we’re allowed now to move non-essential cargo ... effectively to remove some of the congestion on the port.

"I think a number of ports in New Zealand now are cleaning up some logs that are on their wharves to enable space for containers to be stored that aren’t getting uplifted at the moment."

Working conditions had changed a lot for staff — including a daily temperature check of everyone at the port. It gives them some comfort they’re not running a fever and not effectively showing any symptoms. If anyone does read over 38 degrees we then work with them to go home and isolate until they’re feeling better.

Three workers had gone home and come back a day later and tested fine, feeling a lot better, he said.

Mr Winders said staff did well adapting to changes including 2m separation and splitting the workforce into teams.

"We’ve got a number of ancillary buildings we’ve had to quickly convert into additional cafes and smoko rooms so we can keep the teams separated.

"Then just enforcing the number of rules regarding additional hygiene and cleaning."

The Port had shut down dredging and engineering.

Mr Winders said he was satisfied with communication he was getting from the Ministry of Health about Covid-19 and how to manage it.

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