Driving into ContainerCo's yard is like driving into the Grand Canyon. Either side of the entrance road, stacks of shipping containers loom high enough to make you dizzy. Talia Parker reports.
ContainerCo's work is a crucial part of Tauranga's export economy, but most people have no idea what they do.
They receive empty shipping containers, inspect them for faults - which they then fix - and send them to exporters for loading.
Slightly more people know of them now after this month's scare, when a suspicious item was found in a container that came to their yard, inspiring a visit from the bomb squad. The item was found not to be dangerous.
ContainerCo's chief operating officer Ben Duncan and Tauranga depot manager Dylan Mills sat down with the Bay of Plenty Times to explain what their containers go through to get ready for export.
Mills said the first step is a notification from a shipping line - they work with 85 per cent of the largest ones - that a container is coming in.
Once it is hoisted off the truck, Duncan said it is inspected by a qualified surveyor.
The inspection process goes into minute detail. As well as general checks for structural integrity, there are also checks for hairline cracks, welding issues, and any dirt or refuse that might be in the container.
All "dunnage", leftover material from securing or packaging for the previous product the container held, has to be removed.
In theory, every container that comes into their yard is empty, but sometimes human error gets in the way.
Mills said one time a whole container of cars showed up - and, of course, there was last week's incident, which Mills said was "the first of its kind" at ContainerCo.
He said it was "somewhat uncommon for us to [have to] report these things to customs or MPI...normally containers do come into us empty from overseas".
Duncan said finding something in a container was "the exception to the rule" for them.
He said the most typical thing they find in containers is dunnage, and larger items found would have been left in due to human error at another facility.
Duncan said bigger things that arrive by mistake are reported to customs so they can "follow the due process and go 'yep, that's just human error, there's nothing suspicious in there.'
Mills said about one in five of the containers that come in have an issue that needs to be dealt with.
For example, he said, forklifts that remove products from the containers sometimes poke holes in the sides, or leave dirt tracks on the floor that need cleaning to protect biosecurity.
A container headed for a company like Fonterra might need sanding and painting "to hide any blemishes, and to remove anything transferrable", or a steam-clean might be needed for a biosecurity issue.
Repairs can be made on the container based on the 'grade' (quality) needed for specific products.
Mills said bigger repairs like holes would need a quote for the work needed to be sent to the shipping line for approval beforehand.
"The shipping company will then, nine times out of 10, because of the demand, approve it [the repair]."
The container then heads to their on-site workshop to be fixed.
Once it is all better, it heads to a stack to await a truck to take it to whichever exporter requires it.
Duncan said the work that happens at the yard is "vital to ensure that there are containers available to meet export demand".
"A container's not just a container, there's more to it than that."
There's certainly a lot more to what's called a "reefer' - a refrigerated container with its own air conditioning system run by a built-in motor.
Reefers are very popular with Zespri to export their kiwifruit; Mills said there's "huge demand" for them in the fruit season.
The walls are insulated with foam between two steel sheets, and the floor is grated so that air flows right through.
Mills said this work is a "very dangerous industry, because of the heavy machinery and the weight of the stacks that we have".
The stacks could fall in high winds, so operations must stop in significant weather and employees have to gather in the breakroom to avoid potentially falling containers.
Mills said wet weather can also cause containers to slip, and the pyramid stacks were designed to minimise the risk.
"Obviously health and safety plays a huge role here in keeping everyone safe. So it is a pretty daunting industry, I guess.
"ContainerCo do everything they can to ensure everyone goes back home to their families at the end of the day."