Interislander has suffered yet another setback as foot passengers will not be able to board the replacement ferry Stena Alegra when it enters service next month.
Interislander general manager Thomas Davis said on the company's website Stena Alegra would not initially be able to take foot passengers as the vessel was not compatible with the passenger gangways at Picton and Wellington terminals.
Stena Alegra will use the same berth as Kaitaki in Wellington and Picton and the existing passenger gangways had been built specifically for Kaitaki.
There would, however, be no problems boarding passengers and drivers travelling in vehicles.
"Our teams are working on a solution for this but both the Kaitaki and Arahura have plenty of capacity for foot passengers," Davis said.
Davis did not say when the company expected Stena Alegra foot passengers to be able to board by modified gangways at Kaitaki's berth.
He said InterIslander used gangways on all its ships for foot passengers.
"Only passengers with bikes, canoes or dogs walked on via the stern door," he said.
Stena Alegra had passenger capacity for 350.
"We expect this to be fully utilised by vehicle passengers and are allocating passenger capacity to vehicle passengers initially.
"If there is insufficient demand from vehicle passengers we will review the situation. We will consider walking or using buses for foot passengers when the ship is here and we have completed a risk assessment to ensure the safety of our passengers," Davis said.
Meanwhile, NZ First leader Winston Peters asked what company in its right mind would hire a beaten up ferry from Europe that could not take foot passengers?
"Are they supposed to swim across? Will they have to bludge rides in the vehicles that can be carried on the ferry?
"We suggest that the KiwiRail management be given backpacks and a ferry ticket each and sent on foot down to the ferry terminal.
"They need to experience the outcome of their flawed decision making first hand," Peters said.
Peters said there has been a string of botch ups and failures with the Cook Strait ferry service and the management and the board must carry the can.
Stena Alegra, which will replace Aratere on the Cook Strait run, is due in Wellington by the end of the month following a voyage from Poland.
Davis also revealed Interislander had now re-opened its booking system for new vehicle bookings for both the Kaitaki and Stena Alegra from January 12 to March 31.
Stena Alegra will do two return sailings per day from January 12.
Two crossings will be freight only and two will be a mix of freight and vehicle passengers.
Since Aratere lost its starboard propeller on a routine sailing from Picton to Wellington outside Tory Channel on November 5, Kaitaki and Arahura have routinely been making three return sailings each across the strait.
Meanwhile, Seaworks is expected to make an attempt to lift Aratere's propeller and shaft from its Cook Strait seabed resting place next week.
Discussions are still continuing with InterIslander, Maritime NZ officials and the harbourmasters of Wellington and Picton to see whether Aratere might be allowed to undertake single-engine, freight-only sailings of Cook Strait in the build-up to Christmas.
- The Dominion Post