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Commercial overview of the shipping industry

As the previous authors of this chapter have noted, New Zealand is essentially an importer and exporter. It is not a commercial ship-owning nation.2

Commercially, New Zealand is serviced by international shipping lines for container, bulk and car carriers. There has also been a significant growth in cruise liners visiting its ports, although at the time of writing this has been substantially impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. Domestic shipping largely comprises local fishing fleets, several coastal tankers and bulk carriers (primarily for cement cargoes) and ferries (including the inter-island ferries operating between the North and South Islands).

New Zealand's only oil refinery, at Marsden Point in Northland, is due to close in April 2022. New Zealand will then switch to importing exclusively refined oil. The coastal vessels currently used to transport oil refined at Marsden Point around the country will be withdrawn from service.

Otherwise, supply chain issues and the regulation of health and safety have dominated headlines over the past year.

The Commerce Commission, the New Zealand government agency responsible for regulatory oversight of competition and fair trading, has conducted investigations and taken enforcement action in the shipping sector. It recently announced that it would cooperate with regulators from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States to detect illegal cartel behaviour in the sector.

Maritime New Zealand, the national maritime regulator, has taken an active approach to health and safety regulations for several years. A number of prosecutions have been brought against vessel owners, operators, ports and stevedores for breaches of health and safety regulations.

There continues to be strong debate on the consolidation of port operations, investment in marine infrastructure (including drydock facilities) and coastal shipping. The current government has expressed support for all three in broad terms but there have been no developments of note as yet.

General overview of the legislative framework

New Zealand is a common law jurisdiction, meaning that its legal framework is based on both legislation and case law. In the maritime context, legislation provides the broader framework and is supplemented by international conventions, domestic regulations, rules and standards.

The principal legislation is the Maritime Transport Act 1994 (MTA). The MTA regulates maritime activity (safety), the marine environment (e.g., prevention of pollution), the protection of seafarers, the international carriage of goods by sea, and liability for civil maritime claims and maritime offences (including the incorporation of international conventions).

International conventions ratified by New Zealand are usually implemented through the MTA; these include the International Convention on Salvage 1989 (the 1989 Salvage Convention), the Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims 1976 (the LLMC Convention 1976) (as amended by the 1996 Protocol) and the Protocol to amend the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules of Law Relating to Bills of Lading 1968 (the Hague-Visby Rules). Other conventions are given effect by subordinate regulations; for example, the Maritime Rules (discussed below) give force to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972 (COLREGs) and the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS).

Other legislation focuses on specific matters, such as admiralty jurisdiction,3 domestic carriage of goods,4 biosecurity,5 non-sector-specific employee safety,6 security measures around ships and ports,7 criminal provisions relating to maritime matters,8 rights and liability under shipping documents and the delivery of goods, liens for freight and warehousing of cargo,9 formation of port companies and management and operation of the commercial aspects of ports,10 discharge from ships and offshore installation within 12 nautical miles,11 ship registration, transfer of ownership and mortgages,12 and outward shipping policy.13

Several different pieces of legislation apply to the maritime environment both in internal waters and New Zealand's territorial seas and exclusive economic zone: the MTA, the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 and the Resource Management Act 1991.14

In addition to primary legislation, New Zealand has subordinate regulations and orders, which contain administrative and mechanical provisions, and rules giving effect to technical standards and establishing a framework for compliance, such as the Maritime Rules15 and the Marine Protection Rules.16