Northport at Marsden Point has officially become a container port, with the first containers leaving on a new direct shipping service between Whangarei, Brisbane and Singapore.
The containers were loaded aboard the container ship Northern Diplomat at the weekend for the first all-container international shipping service to operate from the port.
The seasonal fortnightly service is being offered to Northland businesses by Mediterranean Shipping Company, and will improve sea freight transit times for local importers and exporters.
Customers already signed up to use the service include Northland growers of kiwifruit and other fruit and exporters of manufactured timber products.
The deal with Northland's $40 million kiwifruit industry will take more than 500 truck and trailer trips off the road south of Whangarei, and boost profits for the people who grow the fruit for export. At the moment Northland kiwifruit is trucked to Auckland where it is then put on a train to the Port of Tauranga.
The new service will run for the remainder of the 2018 fruit export period but will be available for any kind of import or export container shipment.
Northport's commercial manager David Finchett said it represented an opportunity for all industries across the region. He urged Northland business, both importers and exporters, to explore the possibilities presented by the new service.
"Our goal is to build cargo volumes to the point where the service becomes regular instead of seasonal. If we can demonstrate consistent demand for this shipping link from Northland importers and exporters there is no reason why it should not become a weekly service instead of a fortnightly one,'' Finchett said.
"It's a great option for Northland business that has taken a lot of work and coordination by Northport, Northland Inc and many other parties, to bring about. But, like all things, if we don't use it we'll lose it. So we really hope that Northland makes the most of it."
David Wilson, chief executive officer of Northland's economic development agency Northland Inc, said new sea freight services linking the region directly with international markets presented a significant opportunity for its economy.
Northland produces about three and a half million trays of kiwifruit a year, which equates to about 13,000 pallets and is worth about $40 million. The cost to get one pallet of kiwifruit from Kerikeri to the Bay of Plenty is about $102. To load that same pallet at Marsden Point is expected to cost about $36, a saving of $66.
"Until now many Northland businesses have had to incur cost and time penalties to either bring things in through or ship products out of, other ports. Links like this one, using our very own local port, bring new levels of competitive advantage to Northland and should be both welcomed and supported by local business owners,'' Wilson said.
"The growth of Northport is a project within the Northland Tai Tokerau Economic Action Plan and will be an important part of any integrated logistic solution for Auckland and the top half of the North Island."
Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai described the opening of the new route as "fantastic news" that would further connect Northland with the world and strengthen the case for the relocation of Auckland-based manufacturers to Whangarei and the Marsden Point area, with its abundance of inexpensive industrial and port-zoned land.
Carl Muller, general manager of Orangewood, a post-harvest and orchard management company in the Far North, said the new service was "a real coup" for the region's kiwifruit growers. It was more efficient and cost-effective than export routes they had been using previously and MSC's Singapore hub gave exporters easy access to markets virtually anywhere.