Ferry plan team talks to operators

19:45, Aug 01 2012

Cook Strait ferry operators will be contacted this week by the Rescue Co-ordination Centre to help develop an integrated plan to deal with a shipping disaster in Tory Channel, a centre spokesman said yesterday.

A draft of the co-ordinated plan would be available in about six weeks, he said.

The work was prompted by long-time Tory Channel resident Joe Heberley and other Marlborough Sounds residents concerned about a lack of planning for a ferry or other shipping disasters in the Sounds, particularly at the entrance to Tory Channel.

The entrance to the channel is extremely narrow, with strong tides. It is an isolated area with no road access and limited cellphone coverage.

Plans in place are for small-scale incidents and are not co-ordinated. No disaster has happened since regular inter-island ferry services began 50 years ago, but there have been several near misses.

Rescue centre staff member Christine Wilson visited Blenheim last week and met Marlborough District Council staff, Mr Heberley and others.


She is developing a co-ordinated plan to ensure all the agencies involved in dealing with a maritime disaster in the Marlborough Sounds will work together as efficiently as possible.

Two companies operate Cook Strait ferries between Picton and Wellington: Interislander, owned by KiwiRail and Bluebridge, owned by Strait Shipping.

Strait Shipping managing director Sheryl Ellison said her company had not yet been contacted by the Rescue Co-ordination Centre about this plan, but welcomed any work being done to improve co-ordination between agencies in an emergency.

"Strait Shipping's biggest priority is safety and the vessels and management have comprehensive plans in relation to emergency preparedness, including routine drills, and organisations such as the Rescue Co-ordination Centre are involved in these."

Interislander general manager Thomas Davis said Interislander had not been involved to date in planning work, but it agreed a co-ordinated disaster plan for the Tory Channel was necessary.

"We're keen to be involved, particularly as our ships will be critical in the management plan, given our passenger capacity.”

In KiwiRail's staff newsletter, Express, Mr Davis said while ferries appear to have been identified as "the problem" - a ferry in trouble is the scenario they have focused on - they were also the solution.

"At any given time, there will be two ferries and often three operating on the route.

"There is fierce commercial rivalry between ourselves and Bluebridge. But when human life is at risk on the ocean, those rivalries are put aside.

"There have been countless examples of Cook Strait ferries diverting to help other shipping in distress," he said.

The Marlborough Express