New Zealand Maritime Museum

Northern Steam Ship Company


Post-War and Containerisation 1950 1968

1950 saw the extension of the Northern Company's activities when they established a trucking firm especially for the Paeroa route to replace their vessel TUHOE. The Company also started a regular service from ports in the South Island to Tauranga and Whangarei using HOTUNUI.

With the growth of new industries in the Penrose and Mt. Roskill areas, the Port of Onehunga became more viable for the Northern Steam Ship Company.

MARANUI being launched in Holland.  Photograph:  NSS Co. Photograph Album
MARANUI being launched in Holland.
Photograph: Northern Steam Ship Company Photograph Album

At this time more manufactured goods were being exported and this led to a demand for increased tonnage. The Company started a new building programme in 1953 of a fleet entirely of cargo ships, such as MV MARANUI, MAUNGANUI, PORANUI and TAWANUI, which were built in Holland. These vessels were not launched by the conventional method, instead they were launched sideways into the canal at the shipyard. 

The 1960s saw the introduction of containerisation. In line with its modernisation of the fleet the Northern Company invested in containers, cargo pallets, and "cargo cages" to keep up with world trends in shipping. The Company designed these steel mesh cargo cages, which were hinged and collapsible, and they took out a New Zealand wide patent on the design. The cages were particularly useful for carrying prepackaged sugar.

In this period the Company became sole agents for the Manapouri (Deep Cove) Tunnel contract, carrying all sorts of cargoes to Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound on the roadless West Coast of the South Island. In 1963 the Company opened up the timber trade from Jackson Bay, the very remote port on the West Coast with the vessel HOTONUI.

In 1968 the Company took delivery of SEAWAY PRINCESS. She was a roll on/roll off container ship, specifically designed for the Company to carry "cargons", a type of container on wheels, on the Onehunga-Lyttelton run. It was believed that the Company was first to extend the cargon system into the ships, creating an uninterrupted service between two ports. However, the promised new roll on/roll off facilities at Port Onehunga were not built, so the Company had to share the only facility at Fergusson Wharf at the Port of Auckland with the Union Steam Ship Company. The USSCo had priority on the wharf, so SEAWAY PRINCESS often had to wait long periods to discharge and load cargo; and as a result their clients became dissatisfied. The SEAWAY PRINCESS proved to be unprofitable in those conditions and she was sold at the end of 1969 to the Holm Shipping Line.

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