Suez blockage impact on NZ’s congested supply chain being monitored

New Zealand’s biggest container shipping operator Maersk says it’s too early to say if this country’s supply chain, already under stress, will be affected by the Suez Canal blockage.

A massive container ship, operated by Evergreen Marine and carrying more than 20,000 containers, is blocking the Suez Canal, a vital, man-made shipping lane between Africa and the Middle East, after being knocked off course by strong winds and a sandstorm on Tuesday.

Maersk Oceania executive My Therese Blank can’t yet say what impact there could be on the freight supply chain here, already experiencing jams and delays due to container shipping congestion.

Port of Tauranga, New Zealand’s biggest port and the main export gateway, would be much more dramatically affected by a similar blockage in the Panama Canal than the Suez, said chief executive Mark Cairns. “European imports are not so much an issue for us.”

The congestion, particularly marked at Auckland’s port, the main import gateway, is mostly driven by an upsurge in global shipping on the back of Covid-driven consumer demand.

Blank said the Suez Canal was a crucial waterway for the maritime industry and the Maersk Ocean network.

“Maersk connects New Zealand import and export cargo to and from Europe and Mediterranean via our dedicated transshipment hubs in South East Asia. From South East Asia the cargo is loaded on our Asia to Europe network where the vessels are passing through the Suez canal before delivery to European and Mediterranean markets.

“It’s too early to comment regarding impact on the New Zealand supply chain as a result of the vessel blockage in the Suez Canal.

“Svitzer, our provider of towage and safety services, is taking part in the ongoing re-float operations as requested by the Suez Canal Authority.

“So far, seven Maersk container vessels have been affected – four of them are stuck in the canal system while the rest are waiting to enter the passage. Though we may be able to use the buffer in the schedule to enable schedule recovery,it depends on the development onsite.”

The Suez Canal is a crucial waterway for cargo being shipped from Asia to Europe and vice versa.

The grounding incident continued to create long tailbacks on the waterway, stopping vessels from passing and causing delays, said a Maersk advisory today.

Danish company Maersk is the world’s largest container shipping line and the biggest container operator in New Zealand. It operates the largest vessels calling in New Zealand – at Port of Tauranga, the only port capable of handling Maersk’s up to 11,000 container carriers – on its weekly Triple Star service.

Maersk has halved its calls – by smaller container vessels – to Auckland’s port due to shipping congestion there and the port’s crane and waterside handling productivity issues.

The shipping line has stated it will not resume a full service to Auckland until productivity improves.

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