Northport is now officially in the business of accepting big container ships - at least while port congestion continues.
The Northland port says it will accept more container import vessels after cutting its teeth on its largest handling job yet in the race to get freight to Auckland in time for Christmas.
Another container ship, the Tianjin Bridge, will tie up at the port at Marsden Point south of Whangarei on Friday. It's expected to discharge about 919 containers destined for Auckland.
A spokesman said the port understood shipping line ANL was exploring if some of the containers can be railed to Auckland, given the opening of the renovated North Auckland-Northland rail line on January 11.
The vessel will be the second that ANL has diverted to Northport because of continuing shipping congestion at Auckland's port. No exports will be loaded. The Constantinos P, carrying Christmas goods from China and north Asia, tied up at Northport in mid-December and discharged 1170 containers.
It was the biggest container vessel ever handled by Northport, which has a small container terminal compared to the primary ports, and the operation posed a challenge not just to port staff, but to the trucking sector which had to move the boxes south in short order.
No rail link to Auckland was available at the time, and even with the improved line to Whangarei now open, there is no spur link to the port.
Responding to Herald inquiries, the spokesman said further container ship calls at Northport were likely.
"Northport expects to be handling Auckland-bound container traffic for as long as New Zealand port congestion remains a challenge for the national supply chain.
"Supporting Auckland's freight growth is part of Northport's future business strategy, the plans for which are currently out for public consultation.
"Our ability to help ease the freight congestion currently besetting the country illustrates well the role Northport could play in a resilient, three-port Upper North Island supply chain strategy, given ongoing and significant investment in north-of-Auckland transport infrastructure.
"So yes, Northport does intend to accept more container ships to help ease the current situation."
Northport had initiated contact with trucking organisations to co-ordinate logistics and "to ensure we cater to their needs as far as practically possible", he said.
But the port, a joint venture between NZX-listed companies Port of Tauranga, New Zealand's biggest marine gateway, and Marsden Maritime Holdings, did not intend to provide another round of detailed information about the January 15 ship visit - or any other future calls.
The visit of the Constantinos P attracted strong public interest as the upper North Island freight logjam left Christmas store shelves bare and retailers and manufacturers desperate to fill orders. A communication glitch in the early part of the container distribution operation also drew angry public comment from some road transport leaders.
"As far as we are concerned this is now business as usual for Northport and our focus will be on managing the call safely, and as effectively as our limited resources will allow," the spokesman said.
"We are proud to play a role in helping New Zealand Inc deal with the current national logistical challenge."
"We worked closely with both NZ Police and the NZTA (transport agency) during the Constantinos P call and assisted their operations to the best of our ability. We will continue to do this."
The port had reviewed its performance in handling the Constantinos P call and was pleased with the way the operation went, given it was not fully equipped for large-scale container handling and was given just a few days to plan the discharge and truck delivery. If Northport had not accepted the ship, it would have been at least December 22 before it could be unloaded at Auckland.
A few minor tweaks would be made to the port's IT system to help with tracking containers from ship to storage yard and delivery.
"We will also work with the trucking industry to ensure they are aware of the limitations of our truck scheduling system, and how they can best work within these limitations."
Meanwhile, the latest operational update from Ports of Auckland, the country's main import port, said over the weekend a total of 2183 import containers were delivered out.
"Despite all the effort, overall terminal yard capacity remains a challenge with the main yard sitting at 96 per cent utilisation and automated yard 54 per cent utilisation," it said.
The official status of the Auckland Council-owned port's container terminal operations remained "service severely degraded, major delays".
Berth windows remained suspended and the port expected the situation to continue into March.
This has been the status for several weeks. Before Christmas, container ships were waiting offshore for up to 10 days to be unloaded at Auckland.
Port management attributes the congestion to Covid-19's disruptive impact on global container shipping, with much higher than anticipated consumer demand for goods and severely limited air freight space. Also, the port has yet to fully implement an automated system which has been in progress for four years. Neither the port, nor the Auckland Council, will reveal the cost so far of the automation programme.