Purpose-built for cruise ships

Purpose-built for cruise ships
Above: Reclamation and early construction work for the new cruise ship wharf, looking east towards the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour.

Construction of this country’s only purpose-built cruise ship facility at Lyttelton is progressing on schedule and should be completed by November next year. The project is being built by HEB Construction. By Richard Silcock.

Lyttelton Port is the country’s largest coal handling facility and the third largest container port. It is regarded as essential, along with the airport, for Canterbury’s economy, business, tourism and expanding cruise ship industry.

However most cruise ships visit nearby Akaroa, as Lyttelton, following the Canterbury earthquakes, cannot accommodate them.

With an expectation that future cruise ship visits will be around 80 ships per year(1) it was recognised a dedicated cruise ship berth was required for Lyttelton.

Peter Davie, chief executive for Lyttelton Port (LPC), says they need to cater for this demand and the increasing freight volumes which are forecast to double over the next 15 years.

“In other words, we needed to future-proof the port in order to meet these future expectations and provide for the trend to larger ships,” he says.

An artist’s impression of the new cruise ship berth superimposed on a photograph of the existing port facility.

“As the region’s main trade gateway we handle around $4.67 billion in exports and $4.5 billion in imports a year while the cruise ship industry brings many tourists each year to the Christchurch and Canterbury region.

“In order to cater for the trend to larger ships, some of which are up to 350-360 metres long, we have widened, deepened and extended the shipping channel and have increased our reclamation to expand the container terminal and are now working on this cruise ship berth located at the western end of the port.”

Infrastructure manager for the port, Mike Simmers says construction work for the 148-metre long wharf and the 80-metre long bollard structures at either end, commenced in July last year.

“We, together with Beca as our design consultants, designed the berth facility to cater for the handling of ship-to-shore passengers boarding tour coaches. There will be a covered walkway, coach parking spaces and toilet facilities, but no terminal building with the associated immigration, customs and other facilities, as passenger formalities will be handled on-board,” he says.

Prior to construction starting, extensive research was carried out by AECOM’s acoustic engineers and the Cawthron Institute into underwater sound levels, environmental influences and disturbances to the harbour, particularly in relation to the Hector’s dolphin habitat.

“This resulted in a marine piling management plan being developed to ensure we mitigated the impact of construction work on the dolphins as much as possible.

“We also redesigned the berth with smaller diameter piles to those originally specified and managed a procedure of driving the piles each day with what is known as soft-starts,” says Mike. “In other words we start off slowly.”

Following a tendering process, LPC selected HEB Construction(2) for the project as it provided a very competitive tender of just over $50 million and has brought together a team with considerable experience in wharf construction.

HEB’s project manager, Werner du Plessis, says the site has its challenges as it is being built in a very confined space in a ‘live’ port with shipping coming and going and is very open to the prevailing southerly weather.

“Luckily we’ve not had many bad weather days to date, however, the winter has been extremely cold,” he says.

“Since commencement of the project we have driven just over 30 wharf piles. These are 900mm diameter tubular-steel piles(3) and are being driven using a 16-tonne impact hammer suspended from a 280-tonne crane which is mounted on a temporary gantry structure for stability.

“They are driven in a gate to a depth of 60 metres below the water level through soft mud and founded in a deep compact gravel layer.”

The design specifies 64 piles for the wharf itself and a further 88 for the mooring bollards which will be driven to a depth of approximately 20 metres. Topping the piles and formwork will be an 800-900mm thick concrete deck which will be poured over four layers of steel reinforcing grids in 300-metre-square sections.

The 900mm diameter steel piles are being driven to a depth of 60 metres by a 280 tonne crane using a 16-tonne impact hammer.

The concrete will contain a 30 percent fly-ash content to give greater durability and a dense composition. This helps reduce the concrete core temperature and minimises surface cracking.

Another interesting feature will be the installation of over 2000 rock bags. These are mesh bags filled with gravel, positioned and anchored together under the wharf. The bags provide scour protection from ship bow and stern thrusters by deflecting the intense water surge that is created.

HEB has 50 people working on the project. They include civil, construction and marine engineers, carpenters, welders, crane operators and labourers. Werner says they carry out regular safety and planning meetings so that everyone has an enhanced understanding of the work in progress and the logistics of working around each other and active machinery.

“We take safety of our team very seriously, as we do communication with our stakeholders,” says Werner.

LPC has communicated extensively by way of newsletters, a website, letterbox drops and information days to keep local businesses and residents informed, and while there has been some minor negativity around the project from the local community, most are in favour.

Christchurch deputy mayor, Andrew Turner, says the facility is a key piece of infrastructure which will support not only tourism, but will ultimately contribute to the local, regional and national economy, and Debbie Summers, of the NZ Cruise Association, calls this custom-built facility: “A jewel in the crown for New Zealand’s tourism.”

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