A major effort has been underway to remove non-essential cargo from Napier Port to make way for essential exports and imports and potential use by Defence Force vessels for health contingencies and Civil Defence emergencies.

Clearing the port required a determined effort from chief executive Todd Dawson and other port executives to convince Government officials, including the Ministry of Transport,to permit non-essential businesses to remove their containers.

That included the remaining logs after export restrictions were placed by China when the Covid-19 crisis first hit, and our logging, timber and pulp production was shut down.

Napier Port, classified as an essential lifeline asset, must remain open, giving greater capacity for the movement of ‘essential to life’ goods – food and beverage including meat, pip fruit and fresh produce – within the port and across the supply chain.

That’s seen as critical to the nation’s economy during what is currently peak season.

Dawson says part of being a ‘lifeline asset’ means the port has to be available to serve the needs of Civil Defence or health services, ensuring there’s nothing in the way preventing their assets being deployed – for example, to host the New Zealand Defence Force bringing in a temporary hospital.

Getting rid of the non-essentials, and keeping essentials moving means Napier Port is “ready for anything that comes at us”.

That could mean stepping up if Auckland or Tauranga ports get into trouble. “We’re next in line to ensure cargo can keep flowing to the rest of New Zealand.”

Dawson says he and his team are in constant contact with authorities and there’s a daily call with operations to understand the state of the business “so we can prioritise assets and resources as needed”.

Last week (28-30 March) the Napier Port downgraded its revenue and profitability expectations for the year to September based on the number of non-essential exporters and importers required to crease operations.

It also changed its hours of operation to keep staff safe and allow greater time for cleaning equipment prior to shift changes

A number of staff are in isolation because of underlying health conditions, age or various other reasons. “We’ve had to throttle down our overall throughput and capacity and manage with available resources.”

The Port employs nearly 300 people but there can be 400-500 at any time with different businesses providing services, maintenance or moving cargo.

The logistics of that require everyone to be “well connected in their isolation” using technology to get different messages across.

“One of the things we’ve tried to avoid is ‘Covid overload’ so we’re carefully managing messages about how to care for themselves, stay safe and keep the port running so we’re not fanning the flames of anxiety,” says Dawson.

He concedes there’s a lot of disruption across the supply chain and shipping services. From an operational point of view, though he says Napier Port is in good shape.

The Port has a strong balance sheet and access to $14 million in funds and “$180 million in undrawn debt facilities”.

Updated trading information for the March 31 half year would be available in April and financial results in late May.

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