Port of Tauranga CEO Mark Cairns to retire

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns. Photo / George Novak
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns. Photo / George Novak

By: Andrea FoxHerald business writerandrea.fox@nzme.co.nz

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns will retire in June next year.

He will be succeeded by the listed company’s chief operating officer Leonard Sampson.

Cairns, 58, will step aside after more than 15 years heading New Zealand’s largest port, during which time its market capitalisation increased more than seven times, by $4.4 billion, to $5.1b today.

Chairman David Pilkington said under Cairns’ leadership, the port company had grown from a regional bulk export port to New Zealand’s international cargo hub and one of its most successful listed companies.

During his time in the job the average compounding total shareholder return had been 19 per cent per year.

When Cairns became chief executive in 2005, the port handled 12.6 million tonnes of cargo and 438,214 containers a year.

In the year to June this year, those tallies had swelled to 24.8m tonnes of cargo and 1.25m containers.

Cairns said the next stage of his career would be in governance.

Craigs Investment Partners head of private wealth research Mark Lister said he was confident Cairns would be in demand as a director.

“Mark has done a great job, and under his command Port of Tauranga has grown significantly, been an industry leader across the board, and delivered excellent returns to shareholders.

“He will be missed, and as is the case whenever a strong CEO chooses to hang up their boots, the focus will be on the company to see if it can continue to deliver in his absence.

“It will certainly be the end of an era, but Mark is still fairly young and enthusiastic, as well as being very capable, so I’m sure he will have no shortage of offers on the governance front,” Lister said.
Jarden managing director, head of research Arie Dekker said Cairns oversaw a period in which investors had seen material capital appreciation.

“The strategy and execution under Mark’s leadership has seen Port of Tauranga materially outpace its competitors.

“Highlights include strategic investments into MetroPort and Timaru and the Kotahi deal – these have helped underpin Tauranga as New Zealand’s leading port.”

Chief executive-designate Sampson was appointed chief operating officer a year ago after six years as the port’s commercial manager. Previously he was general manager sales at KiwiRail.

Pilkington said the company’s success had delivered wide-ranging benefits to the Bay of Plenty region. Local ratepayers own just over half of Port of Tauranga’s shares through regional council entity Quayside Holdings.

A highlight of Cairns’ time as chief executive is considered to be the port’s ambitious play to become the only New Zealand port able to accommodate the world’s biggest cargo ships. This was via a six-year, $350m capital expansion programme intended to cement its future as the country’s premier freight gateway and hub and feeder port.

In an interview with the Herald in 2018, Cairns recalled the analysis had been gruelling and the commercial risk high.

“For a company of our size with a $2.5 billion market cap at the time, to embark on a $350 million capital expansion programme was a big commercial risk.

“We had to back ourselves to attract that cargo. It was a lot of money and the board put a lot of commercial tension around it.”

In late 2016, following dredging to deepen and widen the port’s shipping channels, major landside operational change to handle the anticipated big increase in cargo, and the securing of long term customer contracts to drive container volumes, the first of the big ships tied up at Tauranga – the only port able to accommodate them on international services.

The strategy paid off. In the 2019 financial year the port company cracked $100 million profit for the first time.

Napier-born Cairns, who has a civil engineering degree with first class honours and master of management and business studies degrees, was previously chief executive at Toll Owens and at Owens Cargo.

“The time feels right to hand over to the next generation to continue the Port of Tauranga’s success into the future,” he said.

“Port of Tauranga is in excellent shape. I’m incredibly proud of our people and the positive outcomes we have achieved for our customers and our community.”

KiwiRail wants its ferry terminal in the central city, without its competitor

September 3, 2020 – Report from RNZ by Catherine Hutton


Plans to build a multi-use ferry terminal in Wellington are in jeopardy, following KiwiRail’s insistence it wants to move into the central city beside rival Bluebridge, but won’t share facilities with them.

An estimated billion-dollar investment for new wharves in both Wellington and Picton is needed to allow KiwiRail to switch its Interislander operation to two new larger rail ferries by 2024.

Two years ago, the Future Ports Forum, comprising representatives from the Wellington Regional Council, the Wellington City Council, Centreport, the Transport Agency, KiwiRail, and Bluebridge was set up to look at where to best situate the capital’s new Cook Strait ferry terminal.

It was agreed the new site would be shared by the Interislander, which KiwiRail owns, and rival Bluebridge.

The latest report from interested stakeholders, released in April, recommended Kaiwharawhara where the Interislander ferries currently dock.

Regional Council (GWRC) chairperson Daran Ponter said KiwiRail left the forum before the final report was released because they did not agree with the location.

“Because they were on the working group they had an understanding of where that report was going to land in terms of its recommendation, they clearly didn’t agree with Kaiwharawhara as the preferred recommendation and they pulled out in advance. Not helpful, but it’s an interesting way of doing business.”

KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller denied leaving the forum, and said releasing the report did not make sense.

“What you are talking about is, ‘did we agree in the forum?’ and the fact is we didn’t agree in the forum, so we’d said no we don’t think that’s the best outcome and we made that very clear,” Miller said.

“Then you’d have to ask yourself, what was the benefit of the Future Ports Forum that couldn’t agree, when the two customers – Bluebridge and KiwiRail – couldn’t agree with the provider, that’s more the point.”

tructural engineers say the Kaiwharawhara site can be built to cope with earthquakes but geotech scientists are less sure.

Miller said it was the geotech report that made KiwiRail stop and think.

“Is this the best location on the port to put new ferries and a new terminal that is rail served? There’s also the motorway upgrade and the location on the port for future transport, which has always been a challenge at Kaiwharawhara, with road and rail location and for the passengers arriving from overseas and domestically, getting access to the Kaiwharawhara site,” he said.

Estimates for building new ferry terminals in both Picton and Wellington are vague – ranging somewhere between half a billion and a billion dollars.

Miller said the huge costs of having to remediate the site could not be ignored. “You can engineer your way out of many things, but what we’re told by the engineers is that the cost of mitigation is extremely high, so there is a cost component to this that you cannot ignore.”

KiwiRail prefers its new terminal to be at Kings Wharf, beside Bluebridge’s existing spot, and closer to downtown Wellington.

But GWRC chairperson Daran Ponter said while KiwiRail had zeroed in on the seismic issues at Kaiwharawhara, Kings Wharf also had problems.

Ponter said the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake showed how fragile the port was. The port received more than $600 million – the second biggest insurance payout in New Zealand’s history – for the damage suffered in that quake.

“Kings Wharf sits midway between the container terminal and the new BNZ centre, both of which were taken out in the November 2016 Kaikōura earthquake. So it would appear wherever you locate yourself around the Centreport site, you are potentially still open to being challenged by an earthquake.”

And documents suggest the lengths KiwiRail is prepared to go to get the site. An email seen by RNZ from their group general counsel, Jonathan Earl, to KiwRail managers in May raised the possibility of using the Public Works Act to secure it.

Ponter said that would be unprecedented and would effectively mean seizing land from regional ratepayers.

“Clearly KiwiRail are an acquiring authority under the Public Works Act, but Centreport itself is a public works. Because you can’t just use the Public Works Act because you like an option more than you like another. You’ve got to give good grounds for the option or for your preference.”

Miller denied that was an option they were pursuing.

“Well the Public Works Act is there to be used to acquire if we need to, and as I said to you we haven’t put in any time, effort into that because I do believe the relationship commercially long term is better to be resolved that way and that’s the way we’re going.”

Centreport is now preparing a third assessment report for a new site, but Miller said he was not keen to share a facility with Bluebridge at Kings Wharf because KiwiRail needed a single-use terminal.

“We needed a rail link span. We have far greater volumes of trucks and cars and passengers that we move, so we probably needed a greater area and how do you divvy up the cost in a single user terminal for that with a competitor?”

Ponter said regardless of KiwiRail’s preferences, ultimately the port company had to accommodate both operators.

In a statement, Bluebridge said it was aware of KiwiRail’s recent proposal to build another wharf adjacent to its site at Kings Wharf, and had provided feedback.

The report is due in the next two months.

In June, the State Owned Enterprises Minister Winston Peters told regional councils he wanted the forum to reconvene and find a solution.

Ports of Auckland tragedy: Maritime New Zealand leading investigation into worker’s death

Maritime NZ is heading an investigation into the death of a worker at the Ports of Auckland in the early hours of yesterday morning. Photo / Michael Craig
Maritime NZ is heading an investigation into the death of a worker at the Ports of Auckland Photo / Michael Craig

NZ Herald 31/8/20

Maritime authorities are now leading the investigation into the death of a worker at the Ports of Auckland over the weekend.

Emergency services were called to the Fergusson Container Terminal, in Parnell, about 2am yesterday.

WorkSafe was notified of the death, but has since released a statement saying Maritime New Zealand will be leading the investigation into the incident.

A spokesman for Maritime NZ confirmed it was looking after the investigation. Police are also involved.

The investigation comes as a workers’ union vows to fight for the health and safety of all people in the workplace – no matter what line of work they do.

First Union NZ took to social media site Twitter to express their views as well as pay tribute to yesterday’s victim.

“Everyone should be able to return home at the end of their shift, whatever work they do,” a post said today.

“Solidarity to the friends, whānau and workmates of the Ports of Auckland worker.

“Unions will continue to relentlessly champion health and safety in the workplace.”

Proposal for Government to buy 50 per cent stake in Ports of Auckland from council

Tom Dillane

Tom Dillane is a reporter at the New Zealand Herald tom.dillane@nzme.co.nz@tomdillane1

A written proposal from the chair of Auckland Council’s planning committee for the Government to buy a 50 per cent stake in the Ports of Auckland has been released to the Herald today.

The four-page draft proposal from Auckland councillor Chris Darby outlines that “time is of the essence” as the city loses $65 million a day in lockdown two, and selling an interest in the ports is the most logical way to save council’s finances.

The original Covid-19 lockdown left a $750m hole in Auckland Council’s budget, and the city’s economy broadly is losing $65m a day during the second August lockdown.

“With the re-emergence of Covid-19 in early August, Auckland Council is now faced with even further reductions in revenue and is fast running out of options to progress already reduced work programmes while balancing its finances,” Darby writes in the proposal.

“My proposal to transfer a 50 per cent stake in POAL to Government ticks a number of important strategic boxes and is a win for Auckland and a win for New Zealand.

“With the re-emergence of Covid-19, the need to prepare has new urgency. It is unreasonable and unsustainable to expect being spoon-fed with government handouts.”

Darby says he considered three key moves to generate revenue from Auckland Council’s strategic assets: the disposal of part or all of the Auckland International Airport [$1.9 billion], the dissolution of public energy trust Entrust [$2.6b], or the disposal of part or all of POAL [$1.2-1.6b].

The four-page draft proposal from Auckland councillor Chris Darby outlines that
The four-page draft proposal from Auckland councillor Chris Darby outlines that “time is of the essence” as the city loses $65 million a day in lockdown two. Photo / File

But selling 50 per cent of the POAL, with an estimated worth of between $1.2 billion and $1.6b, was the preferred option because it would free up “significant capital for injection into future-ready projects” to respond to Covid-19, and be more politically feasible.

“I have purposely avoided the ongoing and eventually damaging inconsequential rearranging of council’s lesser assets in preference for a major transaction that more immediately and materially repositions council’s finances,” Darby wrote.

The councillor said he has informally discussed the proposal with Auckland mayor Phil Goff, the deputy mayor, the other council committee chairs, and three government ministers.

A spokesperson from the mayor’s office said it was the first time the mayor has seen the councillor’s formal proposal.

“The mayor has publicly stated previously that he is not in favour of the sale of strategic assets. Any such proposal would need to be considered by councillors through the normal council process,” the mayor’s spokesperson said.

A spokesperson from the mayor's office said it was the first the mayor has seen councillor Darby's formal proposal. Photo / File
A spokesperson from the mayor’s office said it was the first the mayor has seen councillor Darby’s formal proposal. Photo / File

However, the chair of the council’s finance and performance committee, Desley Simpson, said she was disappointed Darby had not properly canvassed his proposal with her.

But Simpson added she was aware of ideas circulating within council about selling POAL, as the council’s governing body begins consultation on its 10-year Long-Term Plan next week.

“I am disappointed councillor Darby hasn’t shown due respect to his colleagues by discussing his ideas in detail before taking them to the media,” Simpson said.

“These ideas aren’t unique to councillor Darby. Others have mentioned them before and it would seem unusual he would seem to take them as his own when he will be aware that other people have mentioned them before.”

Auckland Council's finance and performance committee chair Desley Simpson. Photo / File
Auckland Council’s finance and performance committee chair Desley Simpson. Photo / File

Deputy mayor Bill Cashmore also said he had not had detailed discussions with Darby about sale of the POAL, and felt it was “unfortunate” he had not produced a “more formal paper to councillors”.

“Councillor Darby and I did discuss several weeks back that there would be a need to have a long-term financial plan or strategy that may have to be by necessity something other than business as usual,” Cashmore said.

“Councillor Darby also bought something along these lines to a chairs’ meeting but with no detail to it.”

POAL chief executive Tony Gibson said any comment on the sale of the POAL should be left with its owners – Auckland Council.

Darby’s proposal specifically rules out an private investor in the council’s stake in POAL, stating that “would be politically unacceptable, for both council and Government, and likely be resisted by iwi and Aucklanders”.

The benefit of the Government owning 50 per cent of POAL would be aiding the post-Covid-19 “recovery of the Auckland economy without setting a precedent, which grant funding potentially could”.

Aside from the direct injection of substantial funds, for the council the transfer of ownership would remove half of the consolidated debt of POAL, which Darby says currently sits at $490m.

The original Covid-19 lockdown left a $750 million hole in Auckland Council's budget, and the city's economy broadly is losing $65m a day during the second August lockdown.
The original Covid-19 lockdown left a $750 million hole in Auckland Council’s budget, and the city’s economy broadly is losing $65m a day during the second August lockdown.

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Brett O’Riley – also a former chief of council CCO Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development – endorsed Darby’s proposal.

“From our perspective we would be pleased to see Auckland Council do this. It’s something we have called on for a long time,” O’Riley said.

“We supported the average 3.5 per cent rate increase because we recognised there is a significant amount of infrastructure both to be maintained and developed by Auckland Council and its entities in Auckland, which is part of Auckland’s long-term plan.

“Auckland’s only going to continue to grow so we have to find ways of injecting more capital into Auckland Council’s activities. Clearly during Covid-19 it’s a hard call to make. But at times like this we have to make some hard decisions.”

The Ministry of Transport has been contacted for comment.

Mandatory Covid-19 testing of all ports staff reined in to only ‘high risk’ contacts

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The government has backtracked on plans to urgently test every single person who had come into the Ports of Auckland for Covid-19.

Last week the Ministry of Health issued a mandatory testing order for all workers at the Auckland and Tauranga ports as part of its border blitz.

It had hoped to get all of those workers tested by midnight last night, but only managed to get about a fraction swabbed – 3485 workers as at 1pm today.

The previous order had covered anyone who had come into contact with the port since 21 July – that was more than 5000 people from 800 organisations at the Ports of Auckland alone.

The current order has been narrowed to focus on higher risk workers, such as those dealing directly with ships and ship workers, and anyone with symptoms to be tested.

The Road Transport Forum had opposed the testing of truck drivers saying they came into contact with hardly anyone at the borders, and Ports of Auckland spokesman Matt Ball agreed that it made sense to reign in the testing.

“The scale of the previous order was huge and probably not necessary, given the low and pretty much zero risk for people like truck drivers.”

He said the ministry had now come to grips with how the supply chain at the ports worked and how many people actually interacted with the ports.

Ball said the ports had been asking for testing since April and the government had been slow to respond.

Ongoing testing will now continue at the Ports of Auckland and the Tauranga Port, and Health Minister Chris Hipkins said it was also being rolled out at other ports around the country.

The government still doesn’t know what the source of the latest Covid cluster in Auckland is.

The first case is believed to be a worker at the Americold facility who displayed symptoms on 31 July.

Testing at the borders will continue as health authorities work to figure out any gaps.

Hipkins said he would be issuing two public health orders by the end of the week – one formalising the testing regime for air crew and the other formalising routine testing moving forward.

Covid 19 coronavirus: Auckland and Tauranga port communities caught in mass Covid-19 test order

Ports of Auckland Covid-19 test station has tested more than 1000 people. Photo / File
Ports of Auckland Covid-19 test station has tested more than 1000 people. Photo / File

By: Andrea Fox Herald business writer andrea.fox@nzme.co.nz

The logistics skills of the busy ports of Auckland and Tauranga are being showcased to the max as they respond to out-of-the-blue and fast-changing Ministry of Health directives to ensure urgent Covid-19 testing of all their users and staff.

Both ports say the latest, much expanded, directive, issued on Saturday just hours after director general of health Ashley Bloomfield surprised the sector with an urgent testing order, will affect about 6000 people at each port – but they expect little disruption to operations.

However the Road Transport Forum says the Government’s “panicked reaction” to try to find if freight is the source of the return of Covid-19’s community transmission, is causing “mayhem” at the ports for trucking operators.

On Friday with no warning, Bloomfield ordered “everyone who works at the maritime border” to be tested by 11.59pm on Monday night. Testing applied for all people who worked at ports around New Zealand who might come into contact with ships’ crew.

With testing facilities reportedly scarce or stretched even this was a tall order, but Saturday’s order widened the test requirement to anyone who had worked at Auckland or Tauranga ports since 11.59pm on Tuesday July 21. According to spokespeople for the two ports, collectively that involves about 12,000 people.

Those having to be tested included shipping agents, stevedores, cargo drivers, contractors, suppliers of goods and services, government agency employees and any crew members who may have come ashore.

The ports were to work with their local DHBs and take all practical steps to ensure their constituents were aware of the order. People could be tested at a community testing centre or at a testing centre set up at the port.

Auckland’s port has had a testing facility waterside since Thursday. A spokesman said around 1000 people had been tested over three days.

A Port of Tauranga spokeswoman said the port had set up a testing site for the DHB, but as at Sunday evening there were no DHB testers yet on site.

She said as it was surveillance testing, people without symptoms were not required to wait until they had test results before returning to work.

“Work groups are separated at the moment due to Covid-19 precautions so it would be highly unlikely that any infection would spread far,” she said.

A Maritime NZ notice said a message about the broader testing requirement had been sent to all port companies, stevedoring companies, unions, harbourmasters, agents, organisations representing the marine industry, fishing operators and maritime operators.

The Ports of Auckland spokesman said it was important to note that port workers never directly touched freight, which was handled remotely or by machines. Containers were never opened at the port by workers. The port had had Covid-19 security and restrictions in place since late January, he said.


“Work groups are separated at the moment due to Covid-19 precautions so it would be highly unlikely that any infection would spread far,” a port spokeswoman said.

Covid-19 testing to take place at all ports in New Zealand

After months of urging that ports should be treated like airports for Covid-19 security, New Zealand port companies have been stunned to receive an order from director general of health Ashley Bloomfield for all maritime border staff to be tested for the virus in the next three days.

The ports, through the port companies chief executives group, along with maritime unions, say they have been asking the Ministry of Health since the end of the first lockdown for sea borders to be treated like aviation borders.

Bloomfield’s letter, sent today, said the ministry would work with regional DHBs to provide testing on site “as a matter of urgency”.

“Testing is for all people who work ports around New Zealand who might potentially come into contact with ships’ crew … ” the letter said.

For New Zealand’s biggest port at Tauranga, the order means around 2000 staff and workers must be tested by close of business on Monday.

Ports chief executives’ group spokesman Charles Finny said as recently as two weeks ago the maritime sector had been urging health authorities to test at ports, without success.

A test station has this week been set up at Ports of Auckland. A spokesman said the company had been “dead keen” to see it but the time it has taken for action was frustrating.

Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns said he had been asking for Covid security at the port to be strengthened since April.

Finny understood from port chief executives he had spoken to on Friday that DHBs intended to set up testing systems at ports over the weekend and on Monday.

“We said months ago that ports should be treated like airports.”

Bloomfield’s letter said along with the new testing requirements, border-based employees needed to continue to take daily health checks.

“Thank you again for the important work you are doing to strengthen practices and to increase vigilance at the maritime border, in order to protect your employees and our community from Covid-19,” it concludes.

Beirut explosion casts harsh light on international shipping rules

Murky story of a ship called the Rhosus, which began life as a Japanese dredger

Andrew North – August 10, 2020 18:00 JST – Nikkei Asian Review

Boris Prokoshev, right, captain of the cargo vessel Rhosus, and boatswain Boris Musinchak, pose next to a freight hold loaded with ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut, in a summer 2014 photograph.    © Reuters

Andrew North has reported widely from across the Middle East, South Asia, and Central Asia. He is a regular commentator on Asian affairs.

This is the story of a ship that was built in Japan in 1986.

Named the “Daifuku Maru No. 8,” maritime records show that it began life as a humble dredger, scooping up mud and rock from Japanese shipping lanes so that bigger craft wouldn’t hit the bottom. Then, in 2002, it was sold to South Korea and renamed. So began a journey around the world, during which the ship’s name, owner and the flag flying from its mast changed every few years.

What are known as “flags of convenience” (FoCs) provide a legal way for a shipping company from one country to reduce costs down by “renting” the flag of another country that has lighter labor rules and lower taxes. Many of these flags are run by smaller, and often poorer countries, ranging from Liberia to North Korea, even landlocked Mongolia and Bolivia. It earns these states valuable revenue, but it also provides a way for unscrupulous owners to conceal their identities while running substandard and polluting ships, as well as dodging the law and cheating their crews.

Between 2005 and 2007, the Japanese-built ship was passed between two Hong Kong companies who called it the “Zheng Long” but flagged it to Belize and then Panama, the tiny Central American state that has nearly 9,000 ships sailing under its flag. That’s around 16% of global shipping tonnage, more than any other country.

Once notorious for its lax rules, Panama now keeps closer tabs on who can fly its colors. So it was telling that when a Panamanian company bought the ship and converted it into a cargo freighter, it was reflagged to the Black Sea nation of Georgia — another country known for running a low-cost FoC regime.

There were still more identity changes to come. First, a Cyprus-based Russian business owner bought the freighter. But when it was sent to pick up a shipment from the Georgian port of Batumi in 2013, the Georgian flag had been replaced with the colors of Moldova, a country with no seaside coast but a reputation at the time for allowing its flag to be used for smuggling by Iranian vessels.

Showing its age, the now 30-year old ship had defects that included a hole in its hull requiring water to be pumped out to stop it sinking, but it set sail nonetheless. When the Russian owner didn’t pay wages, the crew walked out, forcing him to find another crew before sending the vessel out to Beirut to earn extra cash by taking on heavy machinery. When the ship’s decks buckled under the weight, inspectors were alerted and it was declared “unseaworthy.”

The former Japanese dredger was by then named the “Rhosus,” which the world now knows as the ship that carried the 2,700 tons of Georgian-made ammonium nitrate that exploded in Beirut port on August 4 with such deadly effect.A former Japanese dredger named the “Rhosus,” carried the 2,700 tons of Georgian-made ammonium nitrate that exploded in Beirut port on August 4, killing up to 158 people, and injuring more than 6,000.    © Reuters

In the aftermath of the disaster, the focus has rightly been on the failings of Lebanon’s dysfunctional government, as the explosive cargo was its responsibility once offloaded. But the murky story of the Rhosus also raises questions as to why an international system almost designed to avoid accountability is allowed to continue.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has been campaigning for an end to FoCs for decades. It lists 35 countries running flags of convenience, blaming the practice for low wages and abusive conditions among merchant navies, as well as the “floating coffins” on the world’s seas.

Some maritime experts argue that the story of the Rhosus shows that controls worked because the ship was eventually stopped in Beirut. According to Natasha Brown, spokesperson for the International Maritime Organization, the UN’s shipping regulation body, more and better inspections have led to a decline in serious incidents in the last seven years.

Japan, the US and Europe all operate a system of white, gray and black lists to classify flags by their record, with frequent inspections for poorer performers. “That makes it more difficult for an owner to keep using a blacklisted flag,” argues Luc Smulders, Secretary-General of the Paris MoU, the organization that oversees European inspections.

But such measures still don’t go far enough. Blacklisting doesn’t stop a ship from sailing, and there are plenty of ports beyond the reach of organized inspectors. Groups such as the ITF say that until there is a “genuine link between the flag a ship flies and the nationality or residence of its owners,” abuses will continue.

Moldova is a case in point. Seven years after the Moldovan-flagged Rhosus was stopped in Beirut, the country is on the official flag performance blacklist. But it continues to run a lightly-regulated shipping registry for all comers. You can do it all online with no mention of any physical checks. (The country’s ship registration agency did not respond to several requests for comment.)

With all that has since emerged about the Rhosus and its past, many have wondered how it was ever allowed to sail with so much explosive material on board. But as things stand, there is little to stop another ship with a shady past from setting sail today.

Concern for merchant sailors stranded in NZ waters

An estimated 300,000 crew on merchant ships have been left stranded at sea around the world by the coronavirus pandemic unable to go onshore – including thousands in New Zealand waters – in what advocates say it’s a ‘humanitarian crisis’.  Crew members from the cruise ship Ruby Princess wave as they depart from Port Kembla, some 80 kilometres south of Sydney, on April 23, 2020, after a few hundred virus-free crew members disembarked to begin the process of repatriation to their home countries. -

Crew on board a cruise ship in May (file photo)

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The Ministry of Transport has now allocated $295,000 to help those stuck in New Zealand ports through the Mission to Seafarers’ organisation. Wellington-based chaplain Reverend Lance Lukin is the Oceania Regional Director for the organisation, he talked to Kim Hill on RNZ’s Saturday Morning about the situation.

Lukin says seafarers are one of the most vulnerable and isolated groups in our society.

“There’s thousands of ships coming in and out of New Zealand ports a year. There’s about 1.5 million seafarers at work at any one time in the world.

“And typically for the lower paid – the able bodied seafarer their contracts are around 9 months long. So at the end of that nine months they will be crew changed in and out. So in any month one twelfth of that 1.5 million seafarers are going through crew changes.”

Those at sea now don’t know when they will be able to get home.

He says the International Transportation Federation has called on all seafarers to go on strike at the end of their contracts if they’re not given shore leave and a crew change.

“If that happens, New Zealand’s economy stops overnight – 120 billion of export comes by ship, 99 percent of trade comes by ship.”

Lukin says seafarer centres operate at each port, manned by volunteers – many who are retirees. The money from the Ministry of Transport will be used to employ more workers so fewer volunteers are needed.

“In this time of pandemic we want to limit the number of people who have acess to ships, but we want to continue to provide that much-needed welfare and support.”

He says many sailors are from China, Philippines and India. But both the Philippines and India have tightened border rules, making it harder for crews from those countries to get home.

[They’re] “desperately wanting to go home, desperately wanting to communicate with their families. We had a ship come into Wellington last week with 18 crew on, 12 of whom are 5 months over the expiration of their contract.

“They should be being paid, but we know globally non-payment of wages is one of the key concerns of seafarers.

“And we’re talking about a pretty low paid workforce anyway. The minimum wage in New Zealand is $18 an hour, for a Filipino sailor the average wage is 90 cents an hour – it’s incredibly dangerous, isolated, high risk environment at the best of times – let alone adding in a pandemic.”No caption

Port of Wellington (file photo). Photo: Mission to Seafarers

Many are still working, but can no longer go ashore.

“There’s about 40 or 50 thousand crew trapped on cruise ships off the coast of the US, and in parts of Indonesia and the Philippines, that can’t get off the ships, won’t be allowed to get off the ships.”

In New Zealand, crews who have been symptom-free for 28 days can go into 14 days of managed isolation if they want to go onshore.

“Given the fact that a ship will enter to the Port of Welllington here today, it will be in port for 8 hours, and it will not be in NZ territorial waters for 14 days – so the likelihood of a seafarer actually being able to get off is next to impossible.

“The reality is apart from the cruise ships right at the beginning and there are no cruise ships now – not one case of Covid has come on a container ship or a logging ship, so we don’t want them to come across our borders and bring Covid – but the reality is they don’t want to come across our borders typically because they don’t want to catch Covid, because they’re going to then get back on that ship and spend 28 days going back to China with no medical facilities on board.”

Most countries test seafarers for Covid-19 when they arrive the border. New Zealand does not, but the Mission to Seafarers is pushing to have it introduced.

Lukin says it could mean seafarers calling at multiple ports would get their results from the test while they still had the opportunity to go onshore.  

“I talked to a seafarer here in Wellington last week who has not physically touched ground for 183 days – you’ve got to think of the mental health implications of that. We know at the best of times that working at sea is a highly risky environment, and the mental health implications are huge. This is a low paid workforce who have limited resources available on board ships.

“Most ships don’t have gyms or recreational facilities, you’re on board for 9 months, and when you come into a port all you want to do is get off, get some fresh air, and most importantly you want to get access to some wifi so you can Facetime and chat with your family back home who you haven’t seen in 9 months – [wifi] is not available on board ships.”Port of Tauranga.

The Port of Tauranga. Photo: Supplied / Port of Tauranga

The Seafarer Centres provid free wifi, and while they’re closed during the Covid pandemic, the organisations’ workers are donning full Protective Personal Equipment and taking portable wifi units onto the ships.

“So that at least for that eight hour period [while they’re in port] seafarers can hotspot and talk to their families.”
 
Lukin says while self-harm and suicide statistics are hard to monitor, there’s anecdotal indications these have increased during the pandemic.

“The best outcome really is that New Zealand honours its obligations under the Maritime Labour Convention – the international bill of rights of seafarers – that they have shore leave, that they have access to welfare facilities that are funded and have competent staff to provide the mental health needs they have right now.

“That’s the basic things they want – firstly to have wifi access, and then they want to be able to talk about all the stuff that’s going on in their own lives that they can’t talk to the shipping agent about – because that’s their employer; they can’t talk to the captain about, because he’s their boss on board; they won’t talk to the government authorities about, because they come from countries where governments are feared, so they want to talk to someone independent – which is why we exist.”

National pledges new tunnel and highway in Wellington transport plan

The National Party has pledged a $4 billion infrastructure package for Wellington and the Hutt Valley if it is voted into government.National Party leader Judith Collins announces the party's $4b transport infrastructure plan for Wellington and the Hutt Valley, on 5 August 2020.

National Party leader Judith Collins announcing the party’s Wellington region transport policy in Petone today. Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

Leader Judith Collins made the policy announcement in Petone today, as part of its $31b transport infrastructure policy announced last month.

The package includes fast-tracking the construction of a second Mt Victoria Tunnel and building a second Terrace Tunnel.

The party is also promising to construct a new highway connecting Seaview, Lower Hutt, to State Highway 1 north of Wellington and introducing rapid buses or trackless trams between Wellington CBD and the airport.

The Wellington and Hutt Valley transport Package includes:

  • Fast-tracking construction of a second Mt Victoria Tunnel and delivering a second Terrace Tunnel
  • Fixing congestion at the Basin Reserve through grade-separation
  • Rapid transit between Wellington’s CBD and airport in the form of rapid buses or trackless trams
  • Removing highway traffic from Wellington’s inner-city streets by undergrounding SH1 through Te Aro
  • A new highway connecting Seaview in Lower Hutt to SH1 north of Wellington
  • Upgrading Wellington’s metro network, including new trains to improve services between Wellington, Masterton and Palmerston North
  • Widening SH1 to four lanes between Wellington’s CBD and airport (Ruahine St and Wellington Rd)
  • Widening SH2 to four lanes between Silverstream and Whakatiki St in Upper Hutt, and fixing dangerous intersections through new interchanges

Collins said the spending would be in addition to funding already been promised through regional council and government’s Let’s Get Wellington Moving plan and the New Zealand Upgrade Programme.

She said a new Mt Victoria Tunnel will deliver more reliable travel times between Wellington’s CBD and eastern suburbs, as well as the airport.

“This region is choked by congestion. Wellington has the worst traffic in Australasia for a city under one million people,” Collins said.

As part of the package the party is looking to establish a new body to deliver National’s redesigned let’s Get Wellington Moving package.

Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop said a Wellington Transport agency wasn’t a new idea, but it was one that had real merit.

“Transport in Wellington has been a debacle for far too long – we only have to look at the lasagna of failure two years ago with the buses.”

Bishop said at the time the regional council blamed the city council and the city council blamed the regional council.

“Wellingtonians were just left there saying ‘what on earth has gone wrong’ and ‘why can’t the buses go on time anymore?’,” he said.

Labour’s transport spokesperson Phil Twyford agreed a new agency could be a good idea if the councils agreed.

But he hit back at National’s lasagna claim.

“I would say the National Party cooked that lasagna, the bus-tastrophe that happened over the last couple of years was a direct result of the public transport operating framework that National legislated and we’ll be fixing it,” he said.

He also questioned how the National Party would pay for an extra $31 billion in its infrastructure programme on top of what Labour had already committed to.

“They’re not telling Kiwis how they’ll fund these massive promises, what projects are they going to cut?” he said.

Twyford said Labour was committed to a second Victoria Tunnel – however, it had previously pushed back construction to as late as 2029.

Twyford said a second Terrace Tunnel was not priority.

In previous transport announcements National promised to connect Ōtaki to Wellington’s electric commuter train network, fast-track a four-lane expressway from Ōtaki to Levin and a Palmerston North rural ring road.