Wanted: crane drivers for busy port

ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY
Last updated 05:00 28/06/2014

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More crane drivers will be required for PrimePort Timaru to meet the demand of its new Kotahi agreement, the Rail and Maritime Transport Union (RMTU) says.

A team of five crane drivers work at the port but, according to the MTU, at least another four are likely to be sought.

RMTU Timaru branch secretary and crane operator Josh Meyer said he was excited about the future but wondered where the extra crane drivers would come from.

He said it took a long time to train drivers to reach the standard required for port work.

"It's about time in the seat."

Being a forklift driver was the minimum experience needed to start, then drivers had to prove themselves, Meyer said.

To start with, crane drivers take about 10 minutes to pick up and drop a container for the first few months of training. When working at full speed they need to move one every 90 seconds.

"Some people never get the knack of it, some are natural. It takes about six months to be reasonable at it," Meyer said.

As new drivers progressed, the dynamic changed as their speed increased, he said.

Meyer, now 38, was the youngest crane driver in the country when he started in Timaru at the age of 19. He has had no major mishaps during his career.

It is estimated it costs between $80,000 and $100,000 to train a crane driver. The cranes at the port are V12 Mercedes with twin turbo engines, and can lift about 75 tonnes.

As well as needing high levels of skill and concentration, crane drivers are often required to work shifts of up to 12 hours.

"It's a dynamic job which is high pressure ... it can be mentally fatiguing but it's a great team to work with," Meyer said.

A deadman switch on one of the two multi-function joysticks ensures that if a driver is incapacitated the crane will stop immediately. The cab the driver operates from is 20 metres off the ground and accessed by a spiral staircase.

Though there are a few female stevedores there are no female crane operators working in Timaru.

Meyer said there was no reason why women could not do the job.

"There's nothing to stop them."

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- The Timaru Herald

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