Lyttelton Port congestion costs millions

ALAN WOOD
Last updated 10:38 06/12/2013
Peter Fletcher
DON SCOTT
UNHAPPY CUSTOMER: Transoprt company owner Peter Fletcher says the delays have continued on and off since April.

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Trucking firms that pick cargo up from Lyttelton Port are seething.

They say poor container handling practices are costing the region millions of dollars in lost production.

Congestion at the port has led to the cancellation of a Mediterranean Shipping Company Aust (MSC) port call, according to a notice sent to trucking firms this week.

In April, Canterbury truckies voiced their extreme frustration at freight pickup delays at Lyttelton port, saying extra workers were needed.

The problem has resurfaced. Container volumes through the port have jumped causing delays in loading trucks.

The boss of one company, who did not want to be named, said he pulled his trucks from the 60-vehicle queue yesterday because waiting was a waste of time.

One of the most energetic in his criticisms is Peter Fletcher, of Peter Fletcher Transport, who said the delays had continued on and off since April.

Lyttelton Port of Christchurch's Peter Davie, however, said the long delays had only resurfaced in the last couple of weeks and had not been foreseen.

Yesterday, Davie apologised to clients for the delays, saying they had been caused by several factors and that the port was working to reduce waiting times by the middle of next week.

"In the last two weeks they've blown out on us, prior to that from April through there haven't been issues.

"But to be honest we've been whacked by volumes that are way outside our normal levels . . . we never want to be in a position to give people poor service and we do apologise for it."

The high volumes related to exports such as dairy products going "gangbusters", a Cook Strait ferry being out of service meaning more coastal shipping volumes, and port problems in Australia meaning port calls here were out of sync.

He acknowledged some port calls such as the early December MSC visit had been cancelled. "We'll get a ship that omits one week then it turns up the next week, or the next ship in that rotation turns up with double the volume."

A partial solution to the problem was limiting some container exchanges at the port until portside volumes were under control, and opening up new reclamation land at the port for empty container storage.

"The core problem is we've got so many boxes in the terminal that when we go to find the one we want we have to dig out."

Fletcher said an inland port solution may be the best way to fix the longer waiting times. Davie did not rule that out as a possibility, saying the idea was being discussed. Fletcher wrote a strongly worded letter to The Press, saying the port was not acting fairly.

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"Come on Lyttelton Port, get your act together and stop costing this region millions of dollars in lost production."

His company has 70 staff and a total fleet of 47. With GPS in the trucks he had average waiting times at the port of 128 minutes per vehicle on Monday and of 230 minutes on Tuesday.

David Boyce, chief executive at NZ Trucking Association, said the delays at the port had worsened.

- The Press

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