A dry dock to handle the country’s biggest vessels is affordable and can form the basis of a new marine servicing industry, KiwiRail chair Greg Miller says.
Establishing a new facility will reduce the increasing cost and risk shippers face getting regular surveys completed at ports in Australia or Singapore, he said.
The new ferries the firm plans to introduce from 2023 – 230 metres long and 30 metres wide – “actually sets the stage” for the project, he said. KiwiRail is keen to be a catalyst and initial discussions with other shippers have been positive.
The key, he said, is to integrate the new dock with other existing facilities. The resulting hub could then provide a full range of marine services.
“It’s nowhere near as big and scary as we think – if we get it right,” Miller told BusinessDesk.
“I’ve got a really good idea of the costs and they don’t scare us.” He wouldn’t provide an estimate.
Dry docks operate at Lyttelton and at Devonport in Auckland. But both are old and neither are large enough to cater for the increasing size of the country’s ferries, coastal carriers and some ocean-going fishing vessels.
Port Marlborough has spent several years campaigning to establish a floating dry dock at Shakespeare Bay and previously estimated the cost at up to $80 million.
Last year, the New Zealand Shipping Federation urged action on the project, saying it was open to any location that is affordable, can provide 24-hour, seven-day operation, has access to other wharves and is deep enough for use by international vessels.
It told the government’s working party on a supply chain strategy for the upper North Island that the only feasible sites are Whangarei and Shakespeare Bay.
Miller wouldn’t be drawn on the location of the facility, development of which may still be five to 10 years out.
Yesterday, he told Parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee that the limited dry dock capacity is causing a loss of productivity.
Increasing coastal shipping around Australia is making it harder for New Zealand vessels to access facilities there. Getting to and from Singapore adds to time and cost and also adds considerable risk to scheduling.
Miller said New Zealand fishing companies are also designing vessels to fit the local facilities, reducing their ocean-going capacity and their efficiency.
The Devonport dock can handle vessels up to 170 metres in length. Miller said there are probably 14 local vessels that could use a larger facility now and he could see that figure getting to 20 “pretty easily”.
Beyond that there is additional scope to gain business from international shipping lines that currently can’t get vessels serviced here.
“We could build an industry,” he said. “We are going to really pursue a location and an opportunity for that.”