Maersk adds Wellington to Asia run
ROELAND VAN DEN BERGH, ANDREA FOX AND NICK KRAUSE
Wellington CentrePort will receive an additional weekly direct link to Southeast Asia with Maersk Line announcing an extension of its Southern Star service, but freight rates would also be increased from the end of this year.
The additional service follows Maersk's decision to pull out of Timaru in September. Next month Maersk will add Wellington and Nelson to the Southern Star run, which links New Zealand direct to the Malaysian hub port Tanjung Pelepas.
CentrePort operations general manager Steve Harris said the service, using a ship capable of carrying 2500 containers could add between 10,000 and 20,000 containers to the 100,000 a year already moved by the port.
The new services "is a key part of our strategy to aggregate cargo of the lower North Island and upper South Island", Harris said.
CentrePort was also working to become a hub for durable imports such as whiteware.
The Southern Star service operated around a dedicated slot in and out of the Tanjung Pelepas hub, ensuring a more reliable schedule, he said.
"If you are a chilled meat exporter then you want to be on that sort of service because the time that the product is on the shelf in Europe ... is critical."
Maersk country manager Julian Bevis confirmed a warning from Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson that global shipping companies would increase freight prices to stem losses.
Gibson told an Institute of Directors meeting in Hamilton yesterday that the shipping industry was "not in good shape", with lines recording an aggregate loss of US$6 billion (NZ$7.5b) in 2011.
Bevis said container shipping lines had been under pressure from losses for some years.
The company would be "having conversations" with customers in the next two to three months with a view to increasing charges later this year and early next year, Bevis said.
Actual rate increases would depend on the customer, the commodity, the time frame and the product.
"But we are probably looking at increases of rather more than people have seen of late," he said.
Given that refrigeration freight rates were 25 to 30 per cent higher around five years ago than today, the coming rate rises were more of a price "restoration".
"We are driven by the laws of supply and demand and that has been pushing prices down. But it can't go on forever and it has brought service deterioration without a doubt."
PrimePort Timaru could lose a third of annual revenues, around $6 million, and will have to shed more than 50 staff following this week's announcement by Maersk and Hamburg Sud services.
KiwiRail, which this week signalled up to 220 job losses of its own, said that the loss of the container services in Timaru would not affect its freight capacities.
"Because the shipping lines have made their decision regarding Timaru, this means we will be picking up those containers, which would have gone in and out of Timaru, from other ports."
PrimePort moved about 50,000 containers a year.
Rail and Maritime Transport Union general secretary Wayne Butson said a national port strategy was needed. It would bring all the ports under central public ownership, allowing the industry to deal with foreign-owned shipping companies from a position of strength.
Port ownership was fractured, which meant shipping companies were free to play port companies off against one another.
Butson said the solution was to move to a national ports strategy that would level the playing field when doing business with the shipping lines.
- © Fairfax NZ News