Coastguard settles on boat design

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012

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The Bluff Coastguard has finalised the design of its $900,000 "dreamboat" - a 13-metre-long, jet-powered vessel which will be built for the demands of Foveaux Strait.

Unit president Andy Johnson said it had been planning a new boat since 2008 and would now start looking for partners to help build it.

Rescue operations near Bluff in the past year, including the sinking of the Easy Rider in March, when eight people died, had highlighted the need for a new boat, he said.

"During the last few major rescues, including the Easy Rider rescue, the coastguard boats have been the smallest out there."

NZAS Rescue, the current Bluff coastguard boat, did not have the range or capability needed to patrol Foveaux Strait and the seas around Stewart Island, he said.

During the Easy Rider operation, Mr Johnson said, the coastguard used a commercial fishing boat as the scene command because NZAS Rescue was too small.

At 30 years old, it is approaching the end of its service life.

It had given great service since it joined the coastguard in 2008, but at 8.5m long, it was not able to cope with the roughest conditions Foveaux Strait could produce, Mr Johnson said.

It could not hold all the equipment the coastguard might need on a rescue and did not have the range needed to cover the area in Bluff's charge.

"There's a need for us to have a vessel which can operate to the extremes of our area," Mr Johnson said. "The safety of our crew is our first priority . . . we don't get a lot of work but when we do it's a major incident."

The new boat will be 13m long, have twin 400-500 horsepower jet motors, space for 16 people and their equipment, and the deck will be large enough for a helicopter to lower people or equipment onto and pick up safely.

It would hold enough fuel to easily circumnavigate Stewart Island, Mr Johnson said.

The design was based on the Sumner Coastguard's modern boat. Twin jet engines made the boat more flexible and manoeuvrable than a standard outboard-motor design. It made it easier to come in close to shore and was easier to train people to use, Mr Johnson said.

Coastguard Southern Region hopes the Bluff boat will become the standard design for new rescue vessels.

The unit hoped it would be built in Southland, Mr Johnson said.

"If we're going to spend that kind of money, we'd like to see it stay in the region."

Fortunately the region was well-blessed with boat builders, he said.

The plan is to have it in operation in two years.

"We're trying to keep [the cost] under $1 million," he said.

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"We haven't approached any funders, we're still in the initial phases. We're getting costings from boat builders. We have to find suitable people that can assist us in getting the project underway."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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