The move has also put the port of Tauranga, New Zealand’s largest, under scrutiny after Maersk blamed issues at the port for its decision.
Maersk started its NZ Coastal Connect service last July with considerable fanfare, with the ships visiting Tauranga, Auckland, Lyttelton, Timaru, and Nelson. Along with two Swire’s ships, it meant four container ships were operating on the New Zealand coastal runs for the first time.
Maersk has said it could no longer successfully run a coastal service using Tauranga as a hub port.It blamed the situation with the delays in the Port of Tauranga and the introduction of caps on the number of moves per vessel at the port.
The decision has put about 60 New Zealand seafarers out of work. Adding to their resentment is the fact the two ships were regarded as workhorses and crew members felt they went the extra mile in very trying conditions aboard to try to make the service a success. Maersk is replacing the vessels with its own 23-year-old NICOLINE MAERSK and another vessel, hubbing out of an Australian port. The seafarers will be employed directly by Maersk on its standard international employment terms. The NADI and NANSHA were manned through Atlas Professionals.
Maritime Union of NZ members on the ships are receiving four weeks paid notice and a six week redundancy payment.
Commenting on the criticism of Tauranga, a Port of Tauranga spokesperson said that there were no major delays at the port and along with other New Zealand ports it reinstated proforma windows on March 6. “Tauranga Container Terminal has been plagued by delays and reduced productivity since October 2020 when we were forced to abandon proforma berthing windows in the wake of worldwide Covid-related disruption and operational problems at Ports of Auckland,” she said.“Vessel arrival times at Tauranga have been extremely irregular since and with larger-than-normal cargo exchanges per visit. This has led to a cycle of long wait times at anchor, extremely high container yard congestion, reduced productivity and longer-than-usual processing time for vessels alongside. We have been bringing in vessels in the order in which they arrive, but the situation has clearly been unsustainable for all involved – for the congested terminal, for shipping lines incurring costs at anchor and congestion surcharges, and for importers and exporters experiencing cargo delays.”
At the end of 2022, Port of Tauranga, Napier Port, Ports of Auckland and Lyttelton Port formed an industry group and agreed with shipping lines to reinstate proforma windows nationwide from March 6. Shipping lines requested from Port of Tauranga a total capacity of 2.14 million TEU per annum – almost double the number of TEUs currently handled. Consequently, Port of Tauranga has had to impose move count or vessel exchange volume caps, the spokesperson said . “We have the facilities and resources to handle up to 1.38 million TEUs annually, compared with the current 1.27 million TEUs a year.”The port was doing its best to increase capacity, including applying for resource consent to extend the Sulphur Point wharves to accommodate more frequent and larger container vessels. In the short-term, the port had asked its customers to bear with it as it returned to schedule reliability and its previous high levels of container terminal productivity.
Maersk NZ did not reply to a request for comment.