Ship fire may slow Aratere return

OMINOUS: The Aratere makes its way out of Wellington Harbour during stormy weather in 2012.
OMINOUS: The Aratere makes its way out of Wellington Harbour during stormy weather in 2012.

A fire at the Keppel Shipyard in Singapore is likely to mean more delays before unforeseen drydock rudder repairs can be made on the stricken Cook Strait ferry Aratere.

Aratere was scheduled to go back on to a Keppel Shipyard dry dock next Saturday so new port and starboard rudder stocks - namely the shafts which turn the rudders - could be fitted.

Cracks were found in Aratere's two rudder stocks during its first dry docking in Singapore last month.  

The ferry was on the verge of being returned to the water for sea trials last month with two new propeller shafts and refurbished stabilisers, after a propeller shaft snapped in Cook Strait during a sailing from Picton to Wellington in the evening of November 5 last year.

A maritime source from Singapore today said Aratere's unscheduled second dry docking would now very likely have to be delayed until damage caused by a recent fire on another ship in the shipyard was tidied up.

"It is expected the 'Tere' will be a couple of days late getting back on the dry dock because of the fire in the shipyard," the source said.

InterIslander general manager Thomas Davis said the shipyard fire would have little or no impact on work to be undertaken on Aratere. Aratere was now expected to be back in service on Cook Strait towards the end of June.

''Towards mid-May the Aratere will go back into dry dock in Singapore for a few days to allow the installation of new rudder stocks and rudders.

''Once these are installed, the ship will undertake 2-3 days of sea trials off Singapore.''

Following successful sea trials, the Aratere will take on fuel and depart Singapore for what is expected to be a two week return voyage to Wellington, Davis said. 

In 2011, Aratere underwent a five-month, $53.8m extension project at another Singapore shipyard.

The project involved the installation of a new 30-metre mid-body section in the ship, as well as a new stern profile, a new bow, new generators and a total interior refurbishment.

Earlier this year outgoing KiwiRail chief executive Jim Quinn estimated Aratere's broken propeller shaft could cost the company up to $30m.

This $30m figure included the six-month charter costs of the temporary replacement vessel Stena Alegra.

Update 26 May: Keppel Corporation said the incident - which it defined as "minor smouldering", not a fire - was contained quickly and did not affect Aratere repair work or other operations at the shipyard.

The Dominion Post