Rena captain 'took shortcuts'

PALOMA MIGONE
Last updated 05:00 09/03/2012
The Rena's planned route and actual route into Tauranga.
Fairfax NZ

The Rena's planned route and actual route into Tauranga.

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Navigation of the Rena by its officers was "absolutely appalling" as they failed to accurately plot its course before crashing into the Astrolabe Reef, a marine expert says.

A Transport Accident Investigation Commission interim report made public yesterday revealed the captain took shortcuts during his journey to Tauranga as he was under pressure to safely reach the port before the ebbing tide.

The Rena had been delayed for 13 hours in Napier and would have had to wait four hours out at sea if it did not arrive before Tauranga's pilot boarding deadline of 3am.

Marine expert John Riding, from Marico Marine, said it was clear the crew were under commercial pressure, but it was no excuse for their "poor performance".

"The navigation behaviour of the crew was absolutely appalling. I would describe it as incompetent."

The TAIC report showed the crew took several shortcuts before the ship grounded on the reef at 2.14am on October 5.

One of the shortcuts was near the Mahia Peninsula and another as they approached Tauranga.

The ship's position was recorded on two different charts at 1am and 1.20am, which were not cross-referenced.

It was plotted by an "able-bodied watchkeeper" on board and showed the ship was south of the passage plan, heading towards the reef.

Mr Riding said having the watchkeeper monitor the ship's position was like a "cleaner flying an aircraft".

"The people who are qualified to be navigating the ship are the ship's officers."

The watchkeeper later failed to plot the location of the ship on the navigation map at 2am, about 15 minutes before the crash.

The captain and second mate were leaning over the chart as they talked, so the watchkeeper instead wrote it in a log book.

TAIC found a 2am position was plotted after the grounding and was placed further north than the Rena's position at the time.

The watchkeeper's log book was also altered to match the chart.

TAIC also found the captain was alerted by an echo, 4.8km ahead, on the radar at 2.05am.

He showed the radar to the watchkeeper and they used binoculars to look through the windows of the bridge, but could not see anything.

The captain eventually decided to plot the position of the Rena on the chart – but it was too late. The Rena struck the reef at 17 knots (31kmh).

Mr Riding said it was a "poor mess" and crew had about five to six minutes to move the ship away from the reef.

Statements from the second mate and master about what happened in the moments leading up to the grounding contradicted each other.

The second mate told investigators that he showed the master the charts plotting the ship's path before the radar signal alert, but the master said he did not see them.

TAIC chief investigator Tim Burfoot said a series of small alterations and a two-degree difference between the ground tracking and compass reading led the ship straight into the reef.

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said the TAIC report "clearly" showed "money was put over safety".

"There was a commercial imperative to get to Tauranga by 3am. Add to that the navigational errors and it was a recipe for a disaster".

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Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee reiterated there were no plans for a royal commission of inquiry.

He also ruled out compulsory shipping lanes, saying they were "very, very expensive".

TAIC's findings cannot be used in civil or criminal proceedings, but will be used as a basis to improve maritime safety.

Both the master and second mate, who have name suppression, have pleaded guilty to charges over the grounding, and are in New Zealand awaiting sentencing.

- Fairfax Media

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