The Maritime Union says New Zealand’s shipping woes have now become worse, with the Interislander line having two thirds of its fleet going off line.
Two Cook Strait Interislander ferries are out of action as the Aratere is to undergo dry dock maintenance out of the country and the Kaiarahi has developed mechanical issues, which leaves just the third Interislander ferry Kaitaki in operation.
On top of the current congestion and shipping issues, this situation has created another bottleneck in an already stressed supply chain.
Maritime Union Craig Harrison says the Union has been advocating for stronger coastal shipping for years for this reason.
“If we had a viable coastal fleet with more New Zealand ships, then it would be able to absorb any shocks from a situation with the ferries, and deal with the wider reliability issue with global shipping lines missing port calls.”
He says it is urgent that New Zealand rebuild a New Zealand flagged and crewed coastal shipping fleet that can provide reliable and efficient service for regional ports and inter-island trade.
“New Zealand needs to learn from the very big mistake it made in allowing coastal shipping to be run down.”
Mr Harrison says the straightforward solution would be for the Government to support or underwrite an extra ship being brought on by a current operator, under a New Zealand flag and with New Zealand crew.
“A national shipping line with coastal and regional services could be a medium term option, alongside private operators, as could a nationally co-ordinated charter service for international shipping.”
A law change to give New Zealand coastal shipping priority over international shipping carrying coastal cargo was required to provide a level playing field, he says.
Mr Harrison says the global shipping supply chain is in chaos and the situation is unlikely to improve for some time, in line with what international commentators are predicting.
“There needs to be a national freight strategy that brings in ports and coastal shipping and sets up a co-ordinated plan going forward, rather than just leaving things to chance.”
Mr Harrison says a natural disaster or overseas conflict could leave New Zealand in a dangerously vulnerable state without the ability to move its own goods on its own vessels.
“New Zealand must have a strategy that does not rely on foreign international companies to accommodate New Zealand’s priorities.”