CASE STUDY: The cost of a lost port
Exporting containers of pancakes from New Plymouth has become so expensive in the past year, with the full withdrawal of shipping services, that Van Dyck Fine Foods is looking for investors, says co-owner and chief executive Marcel Naenen.
The Port of Taranaki lost calls from reefer ships after big dairy and meat clients took their produce to Tauranga and Auckland ports by rail. Those ships used to go direct to Brisbane and Melbourne from New Plymouth – which was ideal for Van Dyck Fine Foods.
Coastal shipping company Pacifica Shipping filled the gap by calling once a week to get the pancakes to other ports for shipping overseas, but that has stopped too.
Naenen says exporters in the region were unable to commit to the volumes Pacifica required.
Pacifica Shipping’s Chapman says, “We hung in there in New Plymouth from 2008 and the business was very robust, but our business model changed when we moved from the Manukau Harbour to the Waitemata.
“That altered connections for exporters and distributors in Taranaki because of the longer transits via North Cape to the Waitemata. We did this to get closer to export ports to widen the range of connections [with international carriers] for exporters in general.”
Now the pancakes get to export markets via a much more expensive short truck ride, then a rail journey to reach Wellington port. Sometimes containers go by rail to Auckland and Tauranga ports, because Wellington has few services to Asia.
Naenen laments trucking is slow compared with shipping. “Rail is a bit cheaper than road, but as a monopoly how long will that be?”
And equipment is not always available or working, such as generator sets necessary to control temperatures in the 40ft reefers, he says.
“We once had to wait hours for a technician to get a gen set going. The container had been loaded and when we flicked the switch nothing happened. That was scary for us.”
Naenen gets containers from Taranaki port, which offers a cleaning and storage service, or has empties trucked from Tauranga or Auckland.
“But we switch them on first to see if they cool, then we start loading!”