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Fifty years inside the box

Wednesday 26 April 2006

Fifty years inside the box

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of containerisation, one the 20th Century’s most influential advances and one with close ties to Australasia. In just 50 years the simple innovation has developed at a phenomenal pace, altering global trade, our ports, our cities and ultimately our day-to-day lives.

The revolution was led by Malcom McLean, who in 1955 sold McLean Trucking, the company he struggled to build during the Great Depression, and secured a bank loan to buy $42 million worth of equipment to build the world’s first container ship.

On April 26, 1956 the Ideal X, a converted tanker, sailed from Newark, New Jersey to Houston, Texas loaded with 58 modified 35-foot truck containers. The age of containerisation had begun. Less than a decade later the first purpose-built container ship, the MV Kooringa, was built at the New South Wales Dockyards in Australia in 1964. Today’s container ships carry up to 100 times more than their predecessors, the largest carrying 10,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent container unit). Stood on end these massive ships would be 50 metres taller than Auckland’s SkyTower, measuring up to 380 meters.

Fifty years on and approximately 90% of world-wide cargo is transported in containers. The majority of the goods we use everyday – the imported food we eat, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear – are likely to have travelled to New Zealand by container. Containers also take our products to the world – in 2005 Ports of Auckland handled $6 billion worth of New Zealand exports.

It is estimated that the business activity related to Ports of Auckland generates more than 173,000 jobs in the Auckland region and 200,000 nationally, supporting 32% of the Auckland economy and 13% of the national economy.

Containerisation in New Zealand In 1840 Captain William Hobson, New Zealand’s first Governor, established the new colony’s first capital on the southern shore of the Waitemata Harbour because of “its central position and the facility and safety of its port”.

Once a series of muddy little bays and mudflats, Auckland is now home to New Zealand’s leading port, Ports of Auckland, which handles more than 700,000 TEU each year.

Fifty years ago ships calling at the Port of Auckland would have been loaded and unloaded by hand, with goods being lifted through a small hatch and laboriously stacked inside the ships hold by stevedores. Containerisation ultimately changed the emphasis from manpower and muscles to computerised planning and machines.

Today the Port operates a variety of high-tech specialist container handling equipment. This includes: seven gantry cranes (with three more on the way), the tallest towering 95 meters above the wharf, 38 straddle carriers, 4 reach stackers, and 28 fork hoists. The Company’s sophisticated and innovative computer technology products help increase productivity and allow those involved in the shipping process to access information at the push of a button. Ports of Auckland operates two container handling terminals, Axis Fergusson, New Zealand’s largest container terminal, and Axis Bledisloe, a slightly smaller terminal catering to small to medium-sized ships.

The Axis Fergusson container terminal perhaps best illustrates the enormous changes that have taken place in the shipping industry since the revolution of containerisation. The terminal, used solely for container shipping, was completed in 1971. It has an area of more than 25 hectares, 610 meters of berth space and handles more than 350,000 containers each year.

The terminal is presently being extended by 9.5 hectares, with the first five hectares being completed later this year. More than 600,000 cubic metres of mudcrete (dredged marine mud mixed with cement) have been placed as environmentally-friendly fill in the reclamation to date.

The Axis Fergusson container terminal reclamation extension, along with the deepening of the shipping channel and further investment in container handling equipment will ensure Ports of Auckland can efficiently handle future container volumes and continue to cater to Auckland’s growing economy.

* Container volumes are measured in TEUs (20-foot equivalent units – or the size of a standard 20- foot container)


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