'Landmark decision' for harbour channel

Port Otago says a court decision allowing it to deepen an Otago Harbour channel for larger ships is a "landmark decision", which will have real benefits for South Island shippers.

However, rival Lyttelton Port of Christchurch is unfazed by the announcement, saying it will not speed up its own work towards channel deepening in response.

Port Otago has a 15.48 per cent stake in Lyttelton Port of Christchurch, which it says it intends to hold on to at least in the medium term.

The more southern port said Environment Court Judge Jeff Smith had granted its application to deepen its Otago Harbour channel in anticipation of the arrival of bigger container ships on the New Zealand coast.

Chief executive Geoff Plunket said Port Otago could start a dredging programme in the next 12 to 24 months to deepen the existing channel to 14 metres. Half of the channel was already at that depth with the other half at 13 metres.

The company had originally sought consent from the Otago Regional Council to deepen, widen and maintain the lower harbour channel, swing area and Port Chalmers berths; and to allow the passage of larger ships to Port Chalmers.

Plunket said the court's decision means Port Otago is the first port company in the country to achieve the milestone of a fully-consented project to deepen its channel.

"We see the dredging process occurring on an incremental basis over time. As ship sizes incrementally get bigger we'll need to deepen on a progressive basis."

Company chairman Dave Faulkner said this was a landmark decision.

The consents are for 25 years and allow the company to deepen the Port Chalmers channel to 15 metres.

Plunket said Port Chalmers was already the country's deepest container port at 13 metres.

Port Otago planned to complete the dredging programme in several stages, depending on commercial demand. The first stage would be to incrementally deepen the existing channel to 14 metres, which could be at the relatively inexpensive cost of $5 million to $10m. The move to dredge from 14 to 15 metres would be further down the track and more expensive.

LPC chief executive Peter Davie said the port was going through a process on its channel deepening plan, but did not feel the need to speed that up.

"Simply because these shipping lines, even the lines that are talking to us about larger ships, aren't looking for deeper drafts at this stage."

The Press