Thousands of trucks forced on to roads as Wellington port cranes sit idle
Thousands of shipping containers – including empty ones – are being pushed on to the roads as two massive CentrePort cranes sit idle on the Wellington waterfront.
A fix for Wellington's port, which has been unable to load or unload all but a couple of container ships since the November 14 Kaikoura quake, remains months away.
The port usually deals with 10,000 to 14,000 containers a month, putting the number so far forced on to road and rail close to 20,000.
CentrePort has been unable to supply a timeframe for full repairs on the wharf near the cranes, but photos reveal extensive damage.
At the southern end, the ground has dropped by a metre or more for a long length of the inland rail, and no obvious signs of repair work can be seen.
A CentrePort spokeswoman confirmed that the only ships that can load or unload are those few with their own cranes.
But most container ships do not have cranes, meaning their containers have to be taken to another port, then shifted by rail or road to Wellington.
Port chief executive Derek Nind said it was hoped the cranes would be secured in coming weeks.
"Meanwhile, we continue to work with shipping lines on options for using [ships with their own cranes] as an interim solution. We have already had two of these visit the port since the earthquake.
"For the medium term, we are developing a plan for interim works that could restore modified container operations within four to six months."
360 Logistics national operations manager Scott Thompson, whose company works as the "middle man" between the port and importers and exporters, said thousands of containers would have been diverted to other ports.
Taking freight to and from those ports landed mostly on trucks, with his company able to take only about 20 per cent of its containers already transferred by rail.
"Apart from the costs, the pressure on the rail and road infrastructure is intense."
Exacerbating matters was the fact that some shipping companies were insisting empty shipping containers be returned to the port where they arrived.
"The bottom line really is additional costs on importers and exporters that are unforeseen and unforecasted."
One importer this week mentioned they had not passed on additional costs to clients yet "but they will be reviewing that".
While some ships, such as logging ships, routinely carried their own cranes, it was unusual for container ships.
Since the quake, just two of these had visited Wellington. "We don't expect to see another one for three to four weeks."
Greater Wellington Regional Council owns just under 77 percent of the port and council chief executive Greg Campbell said insurance cover should protect ratepayers from any direct repair costs.
But there may be reduced dividends coming from the port and this would be factored into annual plans, he said.
A KiwiRail spokeswoman said the the extra work meant a "redistribution of volumes and goods travelling by rail to alternative ports in the North Island".
"KiwiRail has also boosted its services from inland hubs to the ports at Auckland and Tauranga for coastal shipping services through to Christchurch.
The Interislander ferries were running at full capacity, she said.