A new coastal container service through Nelson next month will be the first step in a "vital rejuvenation" of domestic sea freight, Pacifica Shipping chief executive Steve Chapman said yesterday.
Pacifica is replacing the Spirit of Resolution with a ship that can carry nearly 300 more containers, and amending its coastal runs. Onehunga has been dropped and a second Auckland call added.
The new ship, the Spirit of Independence, is seven years old and has been chartered from a German owner.
"It's 40 per cent bigger, faster, and more fuel-efficient," Chapman said.
The ship could carry 672 containers and would offer much greater refrigerated container capacity to meet rising demand for domestic and export trans-shipment.
The Spirit of Independence will call weekly at Auckland, Lyttelton, Nelson and New Plymouth, looping around North Cape for the southbound leg.
The Spirit of Endurance will continue on the Auckland, Lyttelton, Nelson and Tauranga run.
"One is going up the western seaboard to take care of New Plymouth, one goes direct to Tauranga. So we're giving Nelson exporters the option of going to link to services direct out of Tauranga, and now out of the eastern seaboard of Auckland," Chapman said.
The expanded Pacifica service would deliver the lowest possible costs for long-haul freight movers in New Zealand, at no cost to the taxpayer, he said.
There is fresh talk of moving the Cook Strait ferry terminal from Picton to Clifford Bay, closer to Christchurch and avoiding the Marlborough Sounds, but Chapman said moving goods directly by sea between ports was "the safest, cleanest and most energy-efficient mode by far".
Coastal shipping was a cost-effective alternative to the ferries, he said. "It's a much-underestimated transport mode, and it's going to come into its own as we see fuel prices rise.
"Our improved service gives us the ability to grow this business, even in the current environment of subsidised rail and road."
He said the first Nelson call for the Spirit of Independence was scheduled for "on or about December 19".
Port Nelson was a major supplier of cargo to Pacifica, "everything from timber through to bulk wine and frozen food, be it fish, icecream or meat".
"It's amazing the amount of cargo that the region produces, and the fact that there are no rail connections to Nelson makes it even more important that the region has a connection through to the bigger ports of New Zealand."
Pacifica, a part of Skeggs Group, began with one vessel in 1983. It crews its ships with New Zealanders. Chapman said the new ship was the same size and capacity as the Spirit of Endurance, which has a crew of 11.