Northport is making its debut in the large container ship league much sooner than it expected by bringing Christmas on time to Auckland retailers nervous about a freight logjam.
The biggest container ship ever to tie up at Northport will arrive on Sunday, with deliveries of its imports cargo expected to start heading south on trucks on Thursday morning. Options for coastal ship deliveries are also being explored.
The Constantinos P is a 261m long, 4500-container carrier which on its normal schedule would have tied up at Auckland on Sunday to discharge imports for the city.
But heavy ship congestion at Auckland meant the 32m wide vessel would not be unloaded until December 22, and other container ports around the country are also busy. There was also the extra challenge of getting the imports back to Auckland.
Northport chief executive Jon Moore said the port, a joint venture between listed Port of Tauranga and Marsden Maritime Holdings, got a call last week asking if it was up to the challenge of hosting Constantinos P.
"Of course we are always up for the challenge. It is a challenge for the port - my team are running around frantically making room - but we are enabling product to get on shelves in time for Christmas."
Moore said there had possibly been an industry view that Northport could not handle the bigger container ships but it had dealt with vessels only 15 metres smaller than Constantinos P.
"It plays into our vision for growth story. It's a great opportunity for us."
Northport is keen to be seen as an important part of a resilient upper North Island supply chain by cooperating with and supporting, Auckland and Tauranga ports.
Auckland is the country's main imports port. Tauranga is the biggest port and the main export gateway.
Gary Carter, New Zealand general manager for ANL Container Lines said the Constantinos P had come from north Asia, with just one unloading call before New Zealand, at Brisbane.
After Northport had unloaded "in the region of 2000 containers" for Auckland, the ship would head to Lyttelton, Wellington, Napier and Tauranga.
Moore said unloading the Constantinos P would take longer than at a bigger container port with gantry cranes. Northport has two mobile cranes.
"They can do the job - just at a slower rate. We are geared up for our usual 500 TEU (container) exchange ships so we are limited on things like crane drivers. So we will be managing for fatigue and allowing our staff to recover and rest and fuel everything up for the next day."
Northport, a natural deepwater port, had invested in a ship simulator a couple of years ago so had modelled ships the size of Constantinos P and larger entering and exiting the port several times.
"So we were very able to confidently tell the owner the ship could come in and out of the harbour safely," Moore said.
Northport started in the container ship business five years ago with the purchase of its first crane. The second arrived early this year.
"We've been slowly working our way up through the (container) numbers, last year we handled about 14,000 TEUs.
"Our strategic plan was to grow into this (Constantinos P size) but this is a great opportunity to demonstrate how we can help support the upper North Island supply chain freight model.
"Potentially the outcome will be that the industry has a little look at where we sit longer term and maybe some of those decisions will get different priorities now."