Newsroom Pro Talks live interviews are made with the support of Spark.

The new Ports of Auckland chair says only six percent of ships are arriving on time, meaning there are no guarantees when imports will get here – but she promises her workers will unload the containers quickly.

The world’s biggest retailers are being forced to charter their own ships to get around a so-called containergeddon disrupting the world’s shipping supply chain.

Talking to Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne on an episode of Newsroom Pro Talks, new Ports of Auckland chair Jan Dawson says the port operates on berth windows when ships are planned to arrive.

“In the past, 80 percent of ships arrived within their berth windows,” she says. “Because of the disruption within the supply chain we’re now down to six percent of ships arriving within their berth windows timeframe, and that creates a real lumpy container situation for us.”

Dawson acknowledges Ports of Auckland was responsible for backlogs, but says those have now been mostly eliminated – that the ongoing delays are in when the ships get to New Zealand. “Last year, hands up, there were 11 ships at the peak waiting to get into the port. Now, if I walk the dogs down the waterfront, there’s maybe one steaming in and one waiting. Currently there’s none.”

“So the containers are disrupted globally and while the ports in New Zealand can work with what they’ve got and distribute quickly, it’s getting the ships into New Zealand that is the issue. You’ve got 12.5 percent of the world’s container ships currently at anchor, waiting to get into ports. I’m happy to say that’s not at Ports of Auckland, but globally, that’s a lot of ships out of the supply chain that are sitting, waiting.”

She promises: “We’re committed that when ships arrive, we’ll unload, load, as quickly as possible, and get them back out of the port.

“Listen, when Amazon and Walmart are talking about chartering their own ships to get their goods moved around the world, you have to understand that the global supply chains are in a little bit of disarray. All I can say is, the Port of Auckland will not be holding up the Christmas presents, but it’s a question of the Christmas presents getting to us, so that we can make sure they’re delivered to you.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Dawson reveals that as container ships get bigger, fewer will be able to service New Zealand’s smaller regional ports, making the government’s investigation into domestic coastal shipping solutions more pressing. 

She discusses how her board – almost entirely refreshed with new directors – will change the ports’ health and safety culture after four deaths in little more than four years, and the departure of chief executive Tony Gibson.

The ports’ expensive and much-vaunted automation project has been delayed by further accidents – an automated straddle crane swung one container into another in June – and she acknowledges it’s unlikely now to make its March 2022 go-live date. She remains confident that it will be completed by the end of the financial year, June 30 2022, but that takes it into the volatile fruit export season.

Ports of Auckland is owned by Auckland Council. Mayor Phil Goff told Newsroom he expected Dawson and her new board to deliver a return on the money invested in the automation project.

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Newsroom Pro Talks is made with the support of Spark.

Pro Talks is a live webinar series that looks at the crunchy part of big picture issues with the people whose decisions have a wider impact than just their own companies or enterprises. Hosted via Zoom, subscribers can watch our journalists interview industry leaders live and add their questions to the discussion. 

To get access to future Pro Talks, subscribe here to Newsroom Pro.

Newsroom Pro managing editor Jonathan Milne covers business, politics and the economy.

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