South Island exporters struggling as container ships skip Nelson port

Source: 1News

Exporters at the top of the South Island say they’re struggling to fill international orders due to container ships regularly skipping Nelson’s port. One of the country’s largest seafood businesses has told 1 NEWS sometimes, only one in four ships turn up.

Shipping delays have been felt across the world due to Covid-19. Capacity is down, schedules are erratic and the costs are soaring which is compounding issues for regional ports.

Sealord Group CEO Doug Paulin said Nelson is the hardest port to ship from at the moment.

"There hasn't been a month where we're able to get our sales orders out for the last seven months," Paulin said.

Since the start of the year vessels have often skipped Nelson Port to make it to other, larger ports like Tauranga and Auckland in time.

"So if you say that feeder vessel is due in, say, four times in the month, it will probably only turn up once," he said.

Sealord Group CEO Doug Paulin.

As a result, Sealord’s cool stores are overflowing with more than 2500 tones of product waiting for export.

In the year to June, Port Nelson was expecting 158 container ships, but only 138 arrived. The change of plans often coming with very little warning.

"They tell you when they steam past so you've got the containers on the wharf ready to go and they say, 'Look, sorry, we can't call in this week,'" Paulin said.

Marlborough’s Saint Clair Family Estate are struggling too. While their wines, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc, are very popular with the international market, actually getting them in stores is proving challenge.

Saint Clair accounts manager Alison Baylis says it’s becoming a logistical nightmare, with some shipments being changed up to seven times.

"We still have orders from around April that we are still waiting to have dispatched. For example, Canada is one where we're actually really struggling to secure space."

A ship heading into port.

Even if the ship turns up there’s no guarantee the container makes it on board with shipping companies regularly overbooking. Empty containers, particularly refrigerated containers, are becoming increasingly scarce to book.

The shipping issues leaving Saint Clair in limbo.

"We would typically be expecting our 2021 wines to be reaching market in six to eight weeks, however this year it's not going to be the case. It's certainly going to be closer to Christmas," Baylis said.

Port Nelson’s general manager of operations, Matt McDonald, says while the main export season for the region is over, the issue will likely remain for some time.

"We expect the disruption to carry on for a while yet. I think the lines are generally saying they hope things to improve but there are still a lot of challenges out there in the world of shipping."