Yesterday, Transporting New Zealand met with senior executives of the Interisland and Kiwirail, to communicate the serious concerns coming from our membership around the inability to forward book trucks on their ships and the general instability of ferry services for freight across the Cook Straight.

They outlined challenges with crew being taken out with Omicron, having one ship in dry dock and another with gear box failure, along with the increase in general freight, as being contributing problems.

The Kiwirail team acknowledged the current stress of being two ships down, and that that situation is likely to last until August until one vessel returns, however they are confident there will be early relief to the current situation within three weeks, as the Awatere returns from dry dock in Australia. The replacement vessel that has been leased to cover the loss of the ships, the Valentine, while able to carry a large volume of freight, has not had the turnaround times to date that have been required for the fast movement of freight and there has not been an ability to house truck drivers on board. Both of these challenges are likely to be overcome in the very near future.

The Interisland team are also working on a project around a digital self-service and an online booking platform to better put customers in real time control of their bookings. They report that there is a high number of no-shows with both road and rail and they are hopeful this system will reduce these. This will be particularly important at times of reduced capacity and high freight volumes.

Kiwirail reports that it is working collaboratively with Bluebridge, particularly given the fact that they have a ship out of service currently and another heading for dry dock after Easter. We are concerned that there is strained and prolonged stress on the Cook Straight freight path. While new, larger ferries have been ordered, the first one of these is at least 3 and a half years away We are going to ensure the road transport industry’s voice is heard in lobbying Government to fund Kiwirail (if required) to keep an increased capacity of ships working to support the movement of freight between islands in the meantime.

The vessels currently in service are old, require regular maintenance and are at high risk of some kind of failure. We see the most effective short and medium-term intervention of Transporting New Zealand is to advocate to the Government as owners of Kiwirail to consider funding an additional vessel as outlined above.

We are keen to understand specific and prolonged challenges that road transport operators face with both Bluebridge and Kiwirail services. Where able, we will intervene to improve the situation for the industry and we are likely to have to speak to the Minister of Transport in the months ahead to ensure that the additional vessel can remain until new ordered ferries arrive in 2025 and 2026.