More than 300 passengers had to be rescued from a stricken ferry in the middle of Auckland's Hauraki Gulf yesterday.
Worried passengers had to clamber off one ferry on to another that came to the rescue, while the ship floated in the gulf after the alarm was raised over fears of an engine room fire.
"It was pretty calm but there were a few people who were stressing out and what not, and looking a little bit agitated," passenger Sean Geary said.
"It was quite interesting having to jump a couple of feet between the boats, and waiting for them to be close enough for people to jump between them," Geary said.
The ferry was busier than usual because day-trippers and musicians were heading from Auckland to Waiheke Island for the annual Winter Blues Festival.
The Fullers ferry Jet Raider was in the Motuihe Channel travelling between Auckland and Waiheke when it suddenly stopped.
"Ferry just went BANG and stopped," Chris Parkinson quickly tweeted while waiting to get off.
Passenger Hans Versluys said the captain announced the boat had lost power and another ferry, the Starflyte, would evacuate the 316 people on board. "They didn't say why the engine stopped," he said, but he overheard a staff member tell another passenger it may have been a fire.
Geary, an audio engineer, was taking the ferry to get to the festival. "We were probably 15 minutes out from Waiheke and there was just an almighty thud. Initially we thought we'd gone over something or dragged something into the intake. We heard after we'd transferred over that there'd been a fire."
Versluys said everyone on board remained calm. "There was no panic whatsoever. There were a lot of children on board and a lot of older people and tourists, but everyone stayed calm and as soon as they said we were going to be transferred it took about 30 minutes to get everybody off."
Northern fire communications shift manager Jaron Phillips said the ferry's master called the Rescue Co-ordination Centre to say there had been an engine fire but the ferry's automatic extinguishers had put it out.
Firefighters from Parnell went out to the ferry with a thermal imaging camera to ensure the fire was fully extinguished but Fullers CEO Douglas Hudson said last night there was no fire, only a major engine failure.
"What's happened is the engine's failed and in the process it's set off the fire alarms," he said.
Hudson said the cause of the problem was not yet known.
"All the authorities have been notified, Maritime New Zealand have been notified, and they'll decide what further investigation has to occur. We'll be involved in that, and we'll conduct our own investigation."
- Sunday Star Times