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Ferry users stranded in storm

DIANA WORTHY AND GEORGE GARDNER
Last updated 05:00 19/03/2014
Ferry services

COMBINED EFFORT: From left: Mike Thomas from Waiheke Express Taxis, Nick Moseley and Michelle Neil from Fullers, and Rob Johnston from Punga Lodge went the extra mile to round up visitors for the last 9.30pm sailing off Waiheke on Saturday night.

Ferry services
DISGRUNTLED: James Belfield says he would have liked advance warning of the last two Fullers ferry cancellations on Saturday night.

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Frustrated island commuters stranded in Auckland by stormy conditions on Saturday night were told late evening ferry sailings were cancelled after the last boat home had left the city's ferry terminal.

Oneroa resident James Belfield was among those forced to seek alternative accommodation after finding out the last ride back to Waiheke Island had sailed at 8.45pm.

He says instructions at the Downtown wharf advised passengers to check the Fullers website and text alerts.

But the passenger text alert he got at 8.50pm told people the last Waiheke to Auckland sailing would be at 9.30pm because of the weather.

"There was no notice of the last sailing from Auckland to Waiheke. The alert I did receive was sent five minutes after the last boat left Auckland," Mr Belfield says.

"It's galling when you are a commuter - the whole reason we have text alerts is to be informed.

"If they'd given us 25 minutes' notice I imagine a lot of people would have been able to get the 8.45pm home."

Fullers spokeswoman Maree Peterson says a call to cancel the last two boats back to Waiheke was not made until the 9.30pm ferry sailing from Waiheke had docked back in Auckland after 10pm, meaning advance warning was not possible. "The decision was finally made based on sea conditions and passenger safety."

At least 60 people were affected and she says eight were accommodated overnight in the Fullers staff room in Auckland. The company helped a small number, including a wheelchair bound person, get motels, she says.

"More than 50 left the wharf to find their own accommodation.

"It was an unfortunate situation but the majority of passengers were very understanding and grateful."

The story was not so grim for wedding guests who got the 9.30pm boat back to the mainland.

Fullers staff members Michelle Neil and Nick Moseley worked with Punga Lodge's Rob Johnston and Dianne Sharland to track down affected passengers and let them know normal late night sailings were not going ahead.

Taxi companies, the bus company and police also pitched in.

Waiheke Express Taxis driver Mike Thomas even drove to Mudbrick vineyard to alert wedding guests when the venue could not be reached by phone.

A bus driver did the same thing, jumping in his car to Stonyridge.

A total of 111 passengers were able to catch the ferry which left at 9.45pm after Mr Moseley held it up for an extra 15 minutes.

"The feedback we got from customers was ‘thank God you told us'. They were so happy they could make a choice. Lots chose to stay," he says.

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