New Zealand communications infrastructure battered by quake

The ports of Wellington and Picton have issued damage notifications following Sunday night’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Wellington officials said that both the port and wharf gates would be closed for a week. No ship or cargo operations will be permitted.

The epicentre of the quake was at sea, some 51m north-northeast of Christchurch. Wellington is 133m from the epicentre.

Wellington port has suffered gantry crane issues, wharf subsidence and log pile collapses. Ferries running the Cook Strait are at anchor since terminals at Wellington and Picton are badly damaged, but Lyttelton/Christchurch port appears to have escaped structural damage.

Wharves and the inter-island ferry terminal are also understood to have suffered damage. A bridge at KiwiRail’s InterIslander Ferry terminal has collapsed in to the sea. The forestry and cruise berth at Shakespeare Bay has suffered damage and subsidence.

New Zealand’s imports are often shipped to Auckland on the North Island before being driven across land or transported by rail to the South Island via a ferry service across the Cook Strait. That service is not currently operative.

The KiwiRail passenger ferry Kaiarahi was berthing in Picton when the quake struck. It retreated to sea with 225 passengers kept on board for 11 hours. Eventually  the vessel was able to dock.

Picton port authorities have now cleared one berth for use although the terminal remains closed.

The main state highways and main trunk rail line from Picton to Christchurch is buckled, fractured, or have vanished under huge landslips and rockfalls. Some parts of the rail network are now off their footing and blocking the parallel state highway.

Wellington’s CentrePort CEO Derek Nind said that the port had “sustained damage to buildings and the port and also some liquefaction and differential settlement in places.” CentrePort said it was working ensuring that all buildings were safe before they were re-occupied. This process could take some days.

Following the 2011 quake in Christchurch, which was technically an aftershock from a quake further inland in Canterbury late in 2010, liquefaction was a major problem when it came to property damage and deciding whether it was safe to rebuild in an area.

Aftershocks continued near the South Island, with the two strongest measuring 5.8 and 6.3. However. a tsunami warning was withdrawn, although unusual tidal surges and currents were observed all through Monday. ISS assisted in the evacuation of a number of ships to sea, but the vessels have now returned to port.

With massive landslips cutting off road and rail infrastructure, coastal shipping is temporarily the only game in town when it comes to moving freight, but capacity is stretched.

Pacifica Shipping CEO Steve Chapman said: “We’re trying our best to find capacity on our own network as well as alternative options using the international coastal services that ply trade between the islands”.

Road Transport Forum CEO Ken Shirley said that “the weeks ahead are a worry”, noting that “logistics these days is governed by the just-in-time ethos. For a lot of these fast moving consumer goods, a couple of days will mean there will be

shortages. There are a myriad of specialised products and basic food items. Everything you can think of is moved on a truck. It just highlights how dependent we are on the movement of freight.”

It takes about four days to land goods by sea from Auckland to Lyttelton when one adds the 48 hours sailing time to the time taken to load and offload.