Bugs no threat to Picton

JARED NICOLL
Last updated 07:22 26/11/2012

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Concern over a bug infestation found on a cargo ship in Wellington last week will not affect Picton because no vessels have sailed here direct from Australia for years, Port Marlborough chief executive Ian McNabb says.

Biosecurity staff at CentrePort Wellington discovered an infestation of plague soldier beetles on board the 24,000 tonne heavy load carrier AAL Brisbane when it arrived from Melbourne last week.

Hundreds of the beetles were gassed by biosecurity staff after being found. The plague soldier beetles are a prohibited pest in New Zealand because of fears they could carry diseases and devour native insects.

Primary Industries Ministry enforcement staff interviewed the captain of the AAL Brisbane on Thursday and could charge him for failing to declare the beetles. Another ship infested with the beetle docked in New Plymouth earlier this month.

The plague soldier beetle is about 1.3cm long, with a green back and an orange collar. They are native to Australia, where they form large swarms and infest gardens from spring till autumn. The swarms can be so large that they weigh down plants, but usually the beetles are more intent on mating than eating.

One study found that, on a plant holding a swarm of beetles, 92 per cent were copulating.

Australian Museum entomologist Chris Reid said the beetles could have a huge impact on New Zealand.

"They are generalist and they appear in huge masses," he said. "Introduce something like this with no control mechanism, and who knows what would happen."

Port Marlborough chief executive Ian McNabb said no vessels had come direct to Picton from Australia over the past few years other than cruise ships.

"Any vessel that comes in direct to Picton is subject to the standard biosecurity, customs and border control scrutiny, as is every other port and airport in the country."

The 194-metre ship, registered to Singapore-based Australia Asia Line, made headlines in August when it was detained by Maritime New Zealand at CentrePort Wellington after it almost crashed onto rocks at nearby Pencarrow.

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- The Marlborough Express

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