Container shipping giant Maersk is adding another vessel to its New Zealand ocean network to help unchoke supply chain congestion it believes will continue until late this year.
The world's biggest container shipping line will add a seventh vessel to its Southern Star service, which it calls the backbone of the Maersk ocean network in New Zealand.
The service calls at the ports of Tauranga, Napier, Lyttelton and Port Chalmers before heading to Maersk's South East Asian hub ports in Malaysia and Singapore.
Maersk Oceania Export head My Therese Blank said from these hub ports cargo connects to Maersk's global network for delivery in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia.
"On-time arrivals to our hub ports are vital to protect the lead time for New Zealand export cargo, especially for perishable goods.
"Furthermore, with the suspension of berthing windows across New Zealand ports causing disruption to our sailing schedule, the additional vessel will protect reliability and enable us to operate the service with a weekly sailing frequency across the New Zealand ports," she said.
This would improve the stability of Maersk customers' supply chain while avoiding "lost" vessel positions as ships wait for berth openings, which effectively reduced trade capacity.
"To explain it a different way, with six vessels the round trip schedule takes 42 days in a standard operating environment.
"As vessels are having to wait to berth at the terminal on arrival to New Zealand ports, we are unable to recover the significant delays, extending the round trip lead time before the vessel returns to New Zealand ports.
"By adding one additional vessel the round trip lead time increases to 49 days, effectively creating additional schedule buffer, and enables us to have the vessels arriving to New Zealand ports on a weekly basis with significantly reduced disruption to the New Zealand supply chain."
The additional vessel, Rio Negro, is scheduled to first call at Tauranga on May 22.
Blank said adding the buffer to the service schedule protected New Zealand network capacity, which otherwise would have been reduced by 20 per cent with vessels stuck waiting for time slots at container terminals.
"As we currently are in the New Zealand export season peak the seventh vessel is key to keep the New Zealand supply chain moving when it's needed the most."
Maersk adjusted the Southern Star service ship count to six vessels in January as supply chain congestion, particularly in the north of New Zealand, worsened.
Blank said Maersk expected the supply chain disruption, seen at ports around the world as a result of Covid-19, would continue throughout the export peak season.
"We are also experiencing impact from port congestion at overseas ports, impacting on time arrivals to New Zealand ports as vessels are delayed. This is causing further disruption to the New Zealand supply chain.
"We continue to see strong demand for containerised imports and exports in New Zealand increasing pressure on the supply chain. This, coupled with lower port productivity, and suspension of berthing windows is continuing to create significant challenges to operate our New Zealand service network."
Costs for New Zealand importers and exporters have surged in the past year as shipping lines increased their charges amid strong demand for space as air freight capacity dried up post-pandemic outbreak and consumer demand soared. Shipping lines also introduced special congestion charges for containers handled at Auckland, the country's main imports gateway. Container vessels have been diverting to Port of Tauranga, New Zealand's biggest port and its main export gateway, as the Bay of Plenty port grapples with its own export peak. Northport has also been called on to handle some vessels avoiding Auckland.
The latest operational update from Ports of Auckland shows the status of container terminal operations remains "severely degraded, major delays". Berth windows remain suspended.
The report said "considerable effort was being made to identify how best to reinstate berth windows whilst also being able to support the ongoing demand of vessels if any become delayed at other ports".
"As we prepare the terminal for 'full terminal roll out' of automation, planned for July at this stage, it is likely we will only be able to achieve a phased reinstatement of the windows - a few services at a time as and when additional labour capacity comes into the operation.
"We expect this to start from early May ..."
Three container vessels were listed as at anchor waiting for berths as at April 21. They had arrived in Auckland waters on April 16,17 and 20 respectively. The latter vessel was expected to berth on April 28.
At Port of Tauranga, container vessels were waiting on average two to three days at anchor, said a spokeswoman.
Exports were at very high volumes, with log vessels and bulk kiwifruit ships waiting to berth too.
Around 4000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent containers) were awaiting rail transfer to Auckland, down from 5355 on April 8. These containers had been scheduled to land at Auckland port.