Timaru's port company is hoping to turn the tide after a 44 per cent drop in containers leaving the port in the past financial year.
It is hoped the reduction may be reversed by a proposal announced on Tuesday, for the Port of Tauranga to acquire a 50 per cent share of PrimePort Timaru, allowing the port to be a feeder to container services offered at the North Island port.
Kotahi, a freight management partnership between Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms, supported Timaru becoming a coastal link.
Figures from KiwiRail show 2903 containers left the Timaru port in the last financial year, compared with 5193 in the 2011-2012 financial year.
The tonnage which left the port was even more telling, dropping from 29,960 tonnes to just 12,582 tonnes, with a large number of containers empty.
PrimePort's container volumes dropped from a peak of 80,000 in 2008 to 33,000 last year.
In 2009, Fonterra began sending export dairy products from Clandeboye by rail to Lyttelton for shipment, with Temuka being used as the storage point. In the past financial year, Temuka processed more than 43,000 containers.
But last year it lost the container service, jointly run by shipping lines Maersk and Hamburg Sud, with a six-monthly report suggesting containers would drop to 25,000 for the current year.
Kotahi chief executive Chris Greenough said Timaru did not have a future as a port for deep-sea ships.
"We are not concerned by the ownership. It boils down to how well connected Timaru is to the world.
"We don't think Timaru has a part to play as a deep-sea port but it is viable with coastal shipping connecting the region to hub points."
Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms might reconsider using the port if it could connect to the right shipping companies, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News