Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Shipping starting to exit dire straits

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Some operators reporting on-time arrivals across the board for first time in three years.
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After some dire scheduling problems, the export industry is starting to witness a turnaround thanks to a reworking of export shipping links out of New Zealand.

Earlier this year double-digit numbers of vessels were anchored off Tauranga awaiting berths, with as many as 17 recorded on Vessel Finder at one stage.  

Port reliability was in the spotlight, with Maersk at one stage reporting that this regions’ reliability had slumped to 39%, compared to a mediocre global average of 53%. 

But Kotahi CEO David Ross said the export company has witnessed a significant recent improvement in NZ’s export supply chain as a result of industry collaboration that re-configured the South Island’s ocean freighting network, and had fixed berth windows put in place across all NZ ports in early March.

The industry expected the windows to bring some disruption as they were bedded in, but the system is  now showing results.

“Relieving pressure points in the South Island is being achieved with strong industry collaboration across land, port and ocean providers, which has cleared container backlogs and product storage issues,” he said.

Port congestion has been a major headache for operators over the past two years, with Port of Tauranga holding significant numbers of containers in an ever-tighter space.

Ross said the enforcement of fixed berthing windows had proved vital to stem the loss of vessel capacity to NZ.

“We are really starting to see the benefits of this flow through the ocean network in recent weeks with all seven vessels in the Maersk Southern Star service arriving 100% on time at all ports last week, which is the first time in three years.”

He said Kotahi is reporting shorter transit times for NZ products on route to export markets including Asia as result of stronger schedule adherence.

Kotahi manages around 30% of New Zealand’s containerised exports, including those of its shareholders Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms (SFF) and approximately 50 other Kiwi exporters.

The improvements come as Silver Fern Farms has been grappling with slower shipment times to its emerging South Korean chilled beef market. The company also exports significantly larger volumes of frozen product.

SFF had built up a small chilled trade there of about 300t a year, prior to shipping schedules being disrupted by covid. 

That volume is now down to only double digits, with supply going via air freight, due to trans-shipment via Japan pushing chilled product beyond a shelf life acceptable to retailers.

The delays compare to Australia’s ability to supply chilled beef ex-Brisbane in only 12-14 days. 

SFF sees potential in the Korean market sitting in the grass-fed, low-fat, high-protein sector of consumers, rather than competing head-to-head with the enormous volume of grain-fed United States and Australian beef supplies.

Meat Industry Association (MIA) manager for strategy and advocacy Jason Krupp said the MIA is not aware of any country-specific logistical issues at an industry level with South Korea. 

At 97% of trade volume, frozen beef accounts for much of the trade with time to market less of a consideration than chilled product, he said.

A Port of Tauranga spokesperson confirmed that since scheduling has been tightened congestion is significantly reduced and freight movements has improved markedly.

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