Boaties dice with death under bows of ferries

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 09:13 26/02/2014

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Skippers of small boats are dicing with death by crossing the path of Cook Strait ferries, prompting a fresh call for pleasure craft to be registered.

Interislander general manager Thomas Davis said it was often impossible to identify the small boats involved in near-misses. "The vast majority are white with a stripe down the side."

A registration system would help harbourmasters follow up with errant boaties, he said. "You have to register your dog these days, but not your boat."

Data obtained under the Official Information Act shows Maritime New Zealand was notified of 75 incidents involving Cook Strait ferries from 2011 to 2013, including 15 near-misses.

There were eight such incidents in 2011, six in 2012 and just one in 2013.

"While it would be premature to define this as a trend . . . it is certainly pleasing to see such a low level of near-miss/close-quarters incidents for the year," a Maritime New Zealand spokeswoman said.

On October 29, 2011, a small boat cut in front of the Aratere as the ferry neared Tory Channel.

The ferry turned hard to starboard and the launch cleared it by a few metres.

In 2005, a man died when a launch crossed into the path of the Bluebridge ferry Santa Regina in the Marlborough Sounds.

"It's not rocket science to work out you should keep out of the way of the ferries," Wellington harbourmaster Mike Pryce said yesterday.

But he believed it was not clear if registering boats would improve marine safety. Boatie behaviour was improving, boosted by education, he said.

A Maritime New Zealand spokeswoman said there were no plans to register small boats.

Under maritime rules, pleasure craft and small vessels must give way to those of more than 500 gross tonnes.

The data released by MNZ also includes incidents of fires and engine failure on ferries.

In February 2011, a fire was found and extinguished in a drier aboard the Santa Regina.

On October 28, 2012, two crew found a fire aboard the Kaitaki. "It was significant enough to reduce the bin to a pool of plastic slag," the report said.

Both ferry companies reported incidents in which propulsion was lost to one or more engines.

Mr Davis said there were around 4500 crossings a year by its ferries. "But right now I would say we're having too many incidents.

"They are a concern, hence the focus we're putting on safety, and most importantly understanding why these things take place and what we can do to avoid them happening again."

Strait Shipping managing director Sheryl Ellison said its ferries crossed Cook Strait almost 8000 times over the three-year period.

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"Wherever large vessels and small recreational boats are operating in the same space, there is some risk of an incident taking place, but our view is that there have been significant improvements over the past five to 10 years."

DANGEROUS SEAS

Interislander ferries were involved in 40 incidents.

The Aratere was involved in 18, Kaitaki 15, and Arahura 7. Bluebridge ferries were involved in 35 incidents. The Santa Regina was involved in 18, Straitsman 14 and Monte Stello 3.

These included:

April 26, 2011: The Santa Regina collided with the fishing boat Southern Prospector while attempting to dock in strong winds.

July 7, 2011: The Straitsman stopped in Tory Channel for 90 minutes after a fuel pump seized.

August 5, 2011: The Arahura went full astern to avoid a fishing boat in the Marlborough Sounds.

September 10, 2011: The Santa Regina sounded a warning as a pilot boat looked to cross its path unsafely in Wellington Harbour.

October 7, 2011: A power surge shut down the Aratere's port and starboard engines. The ship was steered away from danger and both engines restarted.

October 27, 2011: Power was lost to both Aratere engines in Tory Channel. Speed dropped to 7kmh before its engines were restarted.

October 29, 2011: A small launch crossed in front of the Aratere, missing it by a few metres.

November 28, 2011: A crewman was tightening up a line on the Aratere when a bollard gave way and smashed into the bow, causing a hairline crack.

February 20, 2012: A runabout tried to cross in front of the Arahura, which changed course to avoid a hit.

June 24, 2012: The Kaitaki suffered an electrical blackout in Tory Channel. Emergency power was retained and the vessel continued to Picton.

January 5, 2013: The Aratere came across a vessel with excessively bright lights, which ignored the ferry.

August 2013: Wellington Air Traffic Control received a test radio call from the Straitsman causing "confusion". It was suggested the ferry operator should make calls on marine channels only.

November 5, 2013: A loud bang was heard throughout the Aratere as its propeller sheared off near the entrance to Tory Channel.

- The Dominion Post

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