We have a container shipping service. We don't have a container shipping service. And now we have a container shipping service again.
I feel for the workers at the Port of Timaru. These are choppy times.
It's good news obviously that the Mediterranean Shipping Company is to include Timaru in its container shipping route, rescuing 10 of the 29 jobs destined to go when the Maersk and Hamburg Sud lines decided to end their service.
It doesn't matter that container services are difficult for PrimePort Timaru to make money from, as outlined by port company chairman Roger Gower at the annual meeting. There is a bigger picture.
PrimePort doesn't now have to sell off its container assets, like its cranes. If it had sold them, the chances of resurrecting a container service would have been minimal.
And that would have been to the detriment of local exporters and importers. And to the chances of South Canterbury attracting new exporters.
Before yesterday's announcement, exporters were bracing for extra costs in having to send containers to Lyttelton or Port Chalmers, including a just-started rail service between Timaru and Dunedin.
And while that showed initiative on behalf of Port Otago and KiwiRail, it raised questions from a layperson's viewpoint. If there are enough containers to warrant three train trips a day to Dunedin, why did Maersk pull out in the first place? And, once all those containers were put on a ship in Dunedin, would that ship then sail past Timaru on its way to wherever?
The answer is "probably", which would have most people scratching their heads. But we're not transport operators.
So, where are we now with our port compared to just before Maersk and Hamburg Sud made their announcement in July?
Still in challenging times. The port only just made an operating profit in the last financial year, and while its main shareholder, Timaru District Holdings, isn't screaming for a dividend, it is entitled to expect one. PrimePort has reduced debt in the last year though to just $1 million.
The uncertainty of recent times will still take time to get over, but PrimePort has been forced to take a close look at its business. That it has heeded the changing times is reflected in still shedding 19 staff while retaining some version of its container trade.
Let's hope it's onwards and upwards from here. It's vital to the district that we have a vibrant port.
- © Fairfax NZ News