Ferry ‘too slow’ and breakdown exacerbate supply chain concerns

A new inter-island ferry, hired to ease pressure on the country’s strained supply chain, is too slow and can only make one round trip a day.

The Valentine was further hampered last week by an intermittent problem with the ship’s bow thrusters.

The ferry began crossing the Cook Strait in December carrying only cargo. KiwiRail, which operates the ferry service, secured the replacement vessel when a gearbox failure crippled the Kaiarahi. That left only the Aratere and Kaitaki on the road, which is an extension of State Highway 1 and a vital link in the already congested supply chain.

Carriers are frustrated that the replacement ferry can only make the route once a day, as loading takes much longer. And the upper decks cannot carry trucks.

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The Valentine ferry, anchored in the port of Wellington, suffered a mechanical glitch.

KEVIN STENT

The Valentine ferry, anchored in the port of Wellington, suffered a mechanical glitch.

Industries are planning for crisis disruptions as the Covid Omicron variant spreads through the community. Supermarket shelves have emptied overseas and there are fears that consumer goods may be in short supply.

The government estimates there could be up to 350,000 lone workers at any one time. There is also a severe shortage of truckers.

From now on, the freight sector is concerned about the capacity to transport supplies between the northern and southern islands.

The Valentine is less powerful than the other ships in the fleet and therefore takes between 4 and 4.5 hours to cross the strait, instead of the usual 3.5 hours.

The Valentine has been hired to maintain the link between the North and South Islands while Kaiarahi is out of action.

KEVIN STENT

The Valentine has been hired to maintain the link between the North and South Islands while Kaiarahi is out of action.

And there are fears that overnight resurfacing of asphalt at Weld Pass, just south of Blenheim, could add to the delays.

The trucks will have to make a detour via SH7, the Lewis Pass, for five nights in mid-February.

“The supply chain is already under enormous pressure, but it will potentially get even worse in the coming weeks. The reduction in departures is going to impact that,” said Nick Leggett, managing director of Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand.

“It’s a lifeline. It’s food, but it’s also things like oxygen for hospitals and medicine. You can’t afford to have it cut off at some point in time. a national health crisis.”

Leggett said operators were struggling with delays and bookings, and found Interislander “very difficult” to deal with.

Drivers have complained of wasting an entire day waiting for crossings. An operator recently dropped off a trailer full of frozen food in Picton at 11.30am and was told it would not be unloaded in Wellington until 5am the next day, Leggett said.

Walter Rushbrook, executive general manager of Interislander, said the Valentine did not perform as expected last week due to the fault. A spare was purchased overseas and flown to New Zealand ‘as soon as possible’.

“The nature of the defect made it difficult to locate, but it has now been identified,” he said. “Once the part is up, the vessel will be back in service and we expect Valentine to be operational again next week.”

The Valentine traveled from Britain to Wellington in December, passing through the Panama Canal.

KEVIN STENT

The Valentine traveled from Britain to Wellington in December, passing through the Panama Canal.

Rushbrook said the company is “aware of the vital role Interislander ferries play in New Zealand’s supply chain”.

In order to maintain cargo volumes, Aratere and Kaitaki made additional crossings, he said. Only one vessel can dock at Picton Harbor at a time.

“Valentine has a greater cargo capacity than our current vessels, so we have the flexibility to undertake either two round trips with smaller loads, or one round trip per day with a very large load, which, of course safe, means longer loading and unloading times,” he said.

Rushbrook said the Valentine primarily carries trucks. “Trucks are not transported on the two upper decks. It’s because of overhead clearances on these bridges, not because of stability issues.

The upper decks are used to transport “bulk cars” transported to car sales yards.

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