Passenger services on the Aratere are likely to be canned for several months after it lost a propeller into the Cook Strait overnight.
Interislander spokeswoman Sophie Lee confirmed Aratere snapped a shaft and lost a starboard propeller in Cook Strait just outside Tory Channel on a routine passenger voyage from Picton to Wellington last night.
Interislander general manager Thomas Davis said they were investigating the possibility of having the ferry operate a freight-only service next week.
"It isn't possible to source and deliver a replacement ship within three months for the peak season so we will plan to manage capacity for passengers with Kaitaki and Arahura and freight with all three ships."
Passengers booked on Aratere sailings in the coming days would be prioritised for alternative sailings and were being contacted, Mr Davis said.
"Over the coming days we will be working to put in place a new timetable that provides enough capacity to accommodate our customers. This timetable will remain in place until the Aratere is back in full operation."
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The Aratere was on a 6.30pm sailing from Picton due to arrive in Wellington at 9.40pm.
Passengers on board were told by crew that a propeller had been lost in Cook Strait.
The Aratere continued to Wellington on one engine and is now berthed at Aotea Quay.
Interislander general manager Thomas Davis confirmed the "significant issue".
''Divers were put down to examine the shafts to ascertain the damage upon her arrival in Wellington last night and we can confirm that one of the shafts and the propeller needs to be replaced.''
This week's Aratere sailings had been cancelled "while surveyors ascertain the damage, remedies and timelines to put her back into service".
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said he had been contacted about the latest problems on the Aratere, but had little information.
''It is serious, and we do want to know what's happening, so the Transport Accident Investigation Commission are on the job, as are KiwiRail, and I would expect that in the next day or so a clearer picture will emerge of what actually happened.''
It was too early to say whether the latest problems were linked to the lengthening of the Aratere.
''We have to find that out.''
KiwiRail had contacted Brownlee's office about the incident, but had given him little information other than that ''the prop fell off'', he said today, adding that he had not been told how long the ship would be out of action for.
He had urged KiwiRail to ''focus on getting the ship as right as possible''.
Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) spokesman Peter Northcote said an inquiry had been opened and a TAIC team would start work to gather information on the ship and the voyage later today.
"From this we will develop a plan on what other evidence gathering will be require," he said.
Marine and Transport Consultancy director Rod Grout said the incident came as no surprise.
Mr Grout, formerly chief executive of shipping firm Pacifica, said he repeatedly questioned the wisdom of spending almost $54 million to lengthen she ship a few years ago.
He today said he had received assurances from Steven Joyce, as then-Transport Minister, that that work would also address reliability, stability, and safety issues. The answers were ''not convincing'' then and the ship continued to have problems which were not adequately fixed.
''This whole saga is symptomatic of poor commercial decision-making and wasteful investment by transport officials and their advisers.
''Two years ago I said heads should roll over the move to cut this vessel in two and rejoin the parts, and I stand by that assessment again.''
Since undergoing a $53.8 million refit and lengthening in Singapore in 2011, Aratere has suffered numerous problems.
These include a bollard which catapulted into its side, a rat infestation, engine problems, and broken toilets.
- The Dominion Post
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