Cargo delayed as ports under strain

8:09 am on 2 December 2016

Importers and exporters around the country are scrambling to keep cargo moving after the 14 November earthquake closed Wellington's container terminal.

Napier port has seen an increase in imports and exports since the Hanmer Springs quake nearly three weeks ago forced Wellington's port to close.

Napier port has seen an increase in imports and exports since the earthquake. Photo: Supplied / Napier Port

Parts of CentrePort in Wellington escaped serious damage, but cracks, buckling and liquifaction from the 7.8 magnitude quake will close the terminal for months.

It is New Zealand's sixth largest container terminal and cargo ships are having to make long and expensive detours to other ports.

Freight companies belonging to the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association were early victims of this setback.

Executive director Rosemarie Dawson said work was being disrupted at a busy time of the year.

"It is causing delays in the delivery of cargo. Ships are diverting to other ports - Napier and Tauranga - and one of our members have been advised to expect up to three weeks delay for delivery to a Wellington region address."

Ships from overseas that would normally visit Auckland, Wellington and Lyttelton are now unloading goods at Napier instead. That has caused a build up of containers in Hawkes Bay as they await removal by road or rail companies unused to the high volume.

Port of Napier chief executive Garth Cowie said as a result demurrage - the money charged to importers for uncollected goods - had to be relaxed.

"Normally we would allow a day of discharge plus three days for import demurrage to be charged," he said.

"But because it is taking some time for importers to get their alternative arrangements in place, we have extended that out to nine days."

All this has caused the Port of Napier to boil over with activity: an extra 700 import containers, an extra 400 export containers and up to 7500 tonnes of logs, each week.

"It is taking some time to rework logistics - cold storage warehousing and transport," Mr Cowie said.

"But Napier Port has had a close look at its capacity to handle all this extra volume and we have decided we can do so with its existing infrastructure."

Port of Auckland was also doing more work.

Head of communciations Matt Ball said direct shipborne trade from Auckland to Lyttleton had doubled from 1000 containers a week to 2000.

Napier and Auckland's gain is, of course, Wellington's loss.

It is also a loss for people such as Christchurch scientist Gina De Nicolo who faces high costs for household removal.

"Previously we came down from Palmerston North to Christchurch. That cost around $4500," she said.

"Now three of the four companies we have looked at would go by ship from Lyttelton to Tauranga and back by road to Palmerston North: $5800."

How long all this will last is unclear, but the most recent timeline given by CentrePort in Wellington was three to six months to work out how to fix the port, with an unknown extra spell needed to actually do the work.