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The Port of Tauranga is in the top 10 of the world’s ports for the speed of handling containers and has been hailed the best performing port in New Zealand.

An in-depth investigation into the country’s transport sector by the New Zealand Productivity Commission has highlighted the achievements of the port.

“The Port of Tauranga provides the New Zealand benchmark for best practice,” it says.

The report discusses issues that boiled over at the Ports of Auckland when the port company announced it was making 292 watersiders redundant in a bid to introduce Tauranga-type contracting reforms on to its container terminal.

Efficiencies in place at Tauranga largely stemmed from what happened 20 years ago when the new port company bit the bullet and introduced competition into stevedoring operations – weathering a 32-day strike that shut the port after redundancy notices were issued to watersiders.

Retired port secretary Athole Herbert told the Bay of Plenty Times part of the reason Tauranga held out was that it was a tidal port, unlike other ports where the ships could come in at any time of the day.

Ships had to be worked when they arrived so they were not caught between the tidal windows.

Former port CEO Mike Williams remembered the huge turmoil that came with the reforms of the early 1990s and how Tauranga fought hard to introduce competition between stevedores.

“New Zealand is an island nation. It had to export to survive and its markets lay a long way away.”

Since then, the port has developed into the country’s biggest port by tonnage, with the Sulphur Point Container Terminal now ranked seventh in the world for the productivity of its cranes.

The commission’s report showed that an average of nearly 35 containers per hour were shifted by each crane in Tauranga. This was six less than the world’s top performers, the ports of Charleston and Bremerhaven.

Tauranga’s closest New Zealand rival was Wellington at 30 containers per hour, with Auckland’s terminal a long way back handling 25 containers per hour.

Port of Tauranga CEO Mark Cairns said he had the best equipment in the world and all the pain 20 years ago had established the ability for stevedores to compete on the wharves.

He said they never took collective contracts for granted. “Our staff contribute to why we are one of the top ports in the world.”

The commission’s report said Tauranga performed strongly against international competitors, while other New Zealand ports painted a more mixed picture, with some operating well below world-best practice.

Unlike the rest of New Zealand’s container terminals where freight handlers were employed by the ports, in Tauranga, exporters, importers and shipping lines could choose between two competing container stevedoring firms.

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