Han­dling Go­liath is all in a day’s work at the ports

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Jo­ce­lyn Rein

The lift that takes you to the top of the crane at Ports of Auck­land is not like most el­e­va­tors.

There’s no smooth mar­ble floor, no pol­ished stain­less steel handrails or mu­sic play­ing softly in the back­ground.

In­stead, there’s just enough breath­ing room for two, a loud grind­ing noise and a small win­dow to watch the wharf drop­ping away be­neath you.

At the top, it takes time to get used to walk­ing on a metal grate, the height and slight sway­ing sen­sa­tion.

But it’s ac­tu­ally not so bad.

The crane is Go­liath – a suit­able name for some­thing al­most 100 me­tres high and weigh­ing 1300 tonnes.

Be­low is the port, with thou­sands upon thou­sands of con­tain­ers lined up like neatly or­gan­ised yel­low, red, grey and brown Lego blocks.

As jobs go, it doesn’t get much more ex­cit­ing than zoom­ing along the boom of a crane, lift­ing and de­posit­ing con­tain­ers of pre­cious cargo.

But as he jerks back­wards and for­wards along the boom, driver Rae Wil­liams says the nov­elty has long worn off.

“It’s still one of the bet­ter jobs though,” he says.

He ex­pertly lines up the “spreader” above each con­tainer, us­ing only his eye­sight and a man­ual con­trol to lock it into place and lift it on to the wharf.

From there it will be picked up by a strad­dle driver and placed in the right stack of con­tain­ers.

It only takes five min­utes for a new­comer to start feel­ing mo­tion sick, but Rae will do this for two-and-a-half hours be­fore shift­ing to the deck of the con­tainer ship be­low us to work as a fore­man.

Steve­dore tu­tor Ed Hare­tuku says there is a limit to how long each driver can work be­fore con­cen­tra­tion be­comes an is­sue. He has been work­ing at the Ports for more than 23 years, start­ing as a labourer in one of the Auck­land Har­bour Board’s stores.

When the com­pany be­came Ports of Auck­land in 1988 he was a su­per­vi­sor at Bledis­loe Wharf and has since done ev­ery­thing from be­ing a team leader to a full­time crane driver.

He re­mem­bers as a child be­ing driven past the port and see­ing big yel­low ma­chines at work.

“I al­ways said some­day I’d like to do that.”

Now Ed is in charge of se­lect­ing and train­ing the young men who ap­ply to be­come steve­dores and crane driv­ers each year.

He says they hand pick the driv­ers af­ter at least two years of work­ing on the docks and get­ting to know the busi­ness.

He says cool-head­ed­ness is a must.

“They usu­ally stick out,” he says.

“Their de­meanour is what we look at. You can do an aw­ful lot of dam­age up there.”

He’s had his share of hairy sit­u­a­tions, in­clud­ing un­load­ing price­less Amer­ica’s Cup yachts.

“When it’s some­one’s multi-mil­lion dol­lar cabin cruiser, you don’t want to dam­age it.

“It can be quite stress­ful.”

He says even lift­ing stan­dard con­tain­ers re­quires con­stant con­cen­tra­tion.

“You don’t know what’s in­side so you try and treat each con­tainer the same – very gen­tly.”

Over the past two years Ed has been the driv­ing force be­hind changes to the safety pro­ce­dures for port work­ers and has de­vel­oped a height safety sys­tem he says is sec­ond to none.

“Work­ing at heights is a big­gie,” he says.

“And work­ing on board a ship is one hell of a danger­ous en­vi­ron­ment. It’s right up there with Iraq.”

He says there are al­ways some who are go­ing to push the en­ve­lope in a male-dom­i­nated work­place.

“We’ve changed the cul­ture ba­si­cally,” he says.

In the next few months Ed will be get­ting out of the of­fice to spend some time re­fresh­ing his skills as a crane driver.

He says that suits him just fine.

“If you’re not do­ing it fairly reg­u­larly, you’ll lose it,” he says.

Pho­tos: JA­SON OX­EN­HAM

Day at the of­fice: Trainer and tu­tor Ed Hare­tuku used to dream of driv­ing cranes.

Sky high: The crane named Go­liath in action at Ports of Auck­land.

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