The arrival in Port of Tauranga of the biggest container ship ever to visit New Zealand was a historic day for New Zealand exporters and importers, Transportation Minister Simon Bridges said yesterday.
He was speaking at the dockside ceremony after the giant 9600 TEU (6m container units) Aotea Maersk berthed, inaugurating a new fast weekly direct service to North Asia. Mr Bridges said the significance of the megaships was not simply their size, but the increased efficiencies they would bring.
"We are the most remote developed country in the world," he said. "This service is really crucial in dealing with that tyranny of distance we have in New Zealand."
Maersk Lines' new Triple Star service provides New Zealand exporters with a direct service to important markets including Taiwan, China, Korea and Japan. The Aotea Maersk will be one of 11 sister vessels in the service rotation from Chile in South America to North Asia.
The service will also enable New Zealand shippers to directly access North Asian imports and exports to South America, using a smaller vessel.
Several of the guest speakers noted that the vessel's arrival validated the Port of Tauranga's $350 million investment to enable it to become the only New Zealand port capable of handling mega container ships.
The welcoming group also included Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby, Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder, and Australian High Commissioner Peter Woolcott, as well as officials from the port, Maersk Lines, freight and logistics company Kotahi, and a large crowd of partners and clients.
Chief executive Mark Cairns said the port's infrastructure investment programme would not have been possible without the agreement by Kotahi, in partnership with Maersk, to commit to 10 years of cargo across the Tauranga wharves.
"Over the last decade, Port of Tauranga has been responding to calls from our customers, in particular the New Zealand Shippers Council who represent more than half our exporters, to ensure that New Zealand has a big ship capable port with channel depths consistent with our neighbouring Australian ports," he said.
Maersk Lines Oceania managing director Gerard Morrison said the inauguration of the big ship service marked the culmination of years of work.
"Many said we would never get here and I think some are still asking how we managed to make it happen," he said. "The Aotea Maersk's arrival marks the dawn of a new era in New Zealand shipping."
Kotahi chief executive David Ross described the Aotea Maersk's arrival as a "really big day for New Zealand".
Kotahi was formed five years ago by Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms because New Zealand needed to look for opportunities to consolidate cargo and scale to bring bigger vessels to the country to keep it competitive, he said.
"[The arrival of Aotea Maersk] is a significant moment in New Zealand's export history and a fulfilment of our objective."
• Length: 347m
• Breadth: 43m
• Draught: 15m
• Gross tonnage: 91,560
• Capacity: 9640 TEU
• Max speed: 25 knots
• Built in 1999, and renamed to mark the inauguration of the new New Zealand service.