There's a million reasons to celebrate at the Port of Tauranga
It was just another container ship, but it gave the Port of Tauranga a million reasons to celebrate.
On June 6 at 3.31pm the 133rd box loaded onto the Hamburg Sud Vessel, the Santa Isabel, was the one millionth twenty foot equivalent container shipped from the Port of Tauranga. The milestone cements Tauranga as the busiest port in New Zealand.
"It happened to be a forty foot reefer box full of Zespri's finest green and gold prickly stuff bound for Keelong," chief executive Mark Cairns said.
"While it was kiwifruit that claimed the millionth milestone it could have been any of a number of cargoes from dairy, meat, even apples."
A ceremony commemorating the milestone has held at Tauranga Port on Tuesday morning with Transport Minister Simon Bridges unveiling a plaque.
Cairns said the key to their success was faith in a $350 million capital investment programme to enable the port to be "big ship capable".
Dredging the harbour has been a large part of the long term business plan to allow larger ships to enter.
"At low tide our shipping channels are now 14.5 metres deep inside the harbour and 15.8 metres outside the harbour," he said.
"We were convinced of the trend towards larger vessels.
"It has paid off and we saw big ships arrive as soon as we finished dredging."
In October the first of the 347 metre-long Maersk ships carrying 9500 containers arrived and ships carrying between 7500 and 11,500 are arriving every week.
Last year the world's largest log ship, the Ultramax Class SBI Maia, made its maiden voyage into the port. It carried 53,000 cubic metres onto the vessel which is believed to be the largest single shipment of logs and lumber in New Zealand.
Upgrades to the handling and crane operations have seen the port able to process a container every 30 seconds, non-stop for the year.
"We have increased our container terminal capacity to more than 6500 container ground slots with refrigerated container connections now more than 2,200."
The investment meant little without business partners to use it. Cairns said the port had been busy forming business relationships with key partners that are now paying off for both parties.
Partnerships with Maersk, Kotahi and Zespri have seen container volume increase while a partnership with KiwiRail has helped move the containers off to their destinations quickly.
"Together we have upgraded train services over the last two years increasing from 54 trains a week to running more than 78 trains per week," Cairns said.
"That is the equivalent of more than 450,000 truck trips between Auckland and Tauranga. I highlight this saves around 21.3 million litres of diesel and around 58,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year."
The savings are more than environmental with an 7.7 per cent GDP boost for Tauranga in 2016 compared to the national average increase of 4.4 per cent. The port handles 41 per cent of New Zealand's exports.
Managing director of Maersk Line Gerard Morrison said there were a number of factors encouraging them to bring large container ships to Tauranga but efficiency was their priority.
"It's really important to us to be able to bring in the big ships but it's more important the port is geared up to deal with so many containers," he said.
"Having them sit there for days is not good for us or the customer.
"We only bring our largest container ships here which I think speaks to how much faith we have in this port."