Ferryman will return if Clifford Bay goes ahead

Brooke McKenzie says he has "unfinished business" on Cook Strait. The former interisland ferry operator said yesterday that if the interisland port moved from Picton to Clifford Bay, south of Seddon, he would get back into the ferry business and operate two fast ferries.

One would run between Wellington and Clifford Bay, and the other was "a surprise".

"There will be two of them. I've been talking with people I'm associated with in the shipping business. We've identified one vessel. The second one would be new technology and would be going somewhere else. That will be kept a surprise - it would have major impact on freight movement.

"I have unfinished business."

The other investors were not the Dunedin-based Skeggs family, to whom he sold the Pacifica shipping business he started.

"These are offshore people in the shipping business. We have a bitter taste from the last time, and we are going to turn that into chocolate if Clifford Bay goes ahead."

The next step was for the Government to make a decision on whether to shift the ferry terminal. That work was being done by the Ministry of Transport, and the Cabinet was expected to make a decision by the middle of this year.

"I've advised the Government on several occasions now that if they do go to Clifford Bay, I'm back in the ferry business," Mr McKenzie said.

While he was "no spring chicken any more", he was as "fiery" as ever. "If it happens in the next 10 years, I'm in."

Mr McKenzie set up the interisland freight shipping company Pacifica Shipping Ltd and ran the Top Cat fast ferry service between Picton and Wellington until it folded in 2000. He blames environmental groups that pushed the Marlborough District Council to stop the ferries causing major wake damage in the Marlborough Sounds.

He said yesterday he had no sympathy for Marlborough people worried about what effect the changes could have on their lives and businesses. "They didn't stand by us and are getting what they deserve. They buggered up a very good service in a 100-year-old shipping channel."

He blames an 18-knot speed restriction set on the shipping channel in Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel for forcing his Top Cat fast ferry service to drop from three return services a day between Picton and Wellington to two, which was not economic.

The Marlborough Express