KiwiRail to renew Kaitaki lease

KiwiRail yesterday confirmed it had renewed its lease of British ferry Kaitaki for another four years, at a cost of about $20 million.

Kaitaki, owned by Irish Continental Group and previously known as the Isle of Innisfree, is the largest ferry operating on Cook Strait between Picton and Wellington, with the capacity for 1650 passengers and 550 cars.

Unlike the other two Interislander ferries, Kaitaki does not have rail tracks and cannot carry rail freight wagons.

It is understood KiwiRail is waiting on the Government's decision whether to go ahead with the Clifford Bay project, moving the ferries from Picton to Clifford Bay, south of Seddon. If the port is moved, KiwiRail would replace its ageing fleet with new larger ships.

KiwiRail would not comment on this yesterday.

The deal will cost KiwiRail € 3.75m a year (NZ$5.8m) for the four years of the lease. Irish Continental said the agreement also provided for an option for Interislander to extend the charter for a further period of three years from July 2017, at a reduced rate.

Interislander general manager Thomas Davis said Kaitaki had been the company's flagship since its arrival in 2005 and was the largest passenger ferry in New Zealand.

"With capacity for up to 60 trucks on each night sailing, and some trucks during daily passenger journeys, Kaitaki has been relied upon to carry time-sensitive deliveries between North and South Island such as perishable goods, urgent courier shipments and retail products. She has served us very well over the past eight years."

Interislander originally took out a five-year lease on the ferry in 2005, with an option for a three-year extension in June 2010. This option was taken up and the lease was extended until June 30, 2013.

Mr Davis said the past two summers had been the busiest ever for Kaitaki.

"We are confident we are making the right move in keeping the ship with Interislander."