Cook Strait ferry Arahura has been declared off-limits to passengers until new cabling is installed on all of the 30-year-old ship's lifeboats.
Arahura was taken out of service yesterday morning after a cable attaching the aft lifeboat to the ship snapped during a routine lifeboat drill in Picton.
The lifeboat was removed from Arahura last night by two land-based cranes operating off Picton's Shakespeare Bay wharf.
Interislander general manager Thomas Davis said the investigation in to why the cable snapped is still under way.
''As a precautionary measure we are replacing all the cables on all four of the ship's lifeboats.
''While we source new replacement cables, the Arahura will operate freight-only sailings. All vehicle and foot passengers will be accommodated on alternative Stena Alegra and Kaitaki sailings.''
Davis did not say how long the replacement wiring job would take and when the company expected Arahura back in a position to handle passengers.
He apologised to customers for yet more disruption on the Cook Strait ferry service.
''It is crucial that we take every precaution with our safety equipment on board our ships.''
Arahura's fellow rail freight ferry, Aratere, left Wellington on Saturday to begin its three week slow-boat voyage to a Singapore dry dock for repairs to fix the starboard propeller shaft.
The Aratere's shaft snapped outside Tory Channel on a routine sailing from Wellington to Picton on November 5, 2013.
Aratere has been temporarily replaced by Swedish owned Stena Alegra (on a six month charter) while it is overseas.
The "roll-on, roll-off" Stena Alegra is licensed to carry just 350 passengers. Arahura is capable of carrying 550 passengers.
Representatives from classification society Det Norske Veritas flew to Picton last night to inspect the Arahura.
The latest breakdown of Cook Strait ferry services coincided with KiwiRail's new general manager, Peter Reidy's first day on the job.
Reidy was chief operating officer, infrastructure services with Downer EDI Group in Australia before taking over as KiwiRail boss in Wellington yesterday.
"New Zealand needs a strong, safe and sustainable rail and ferry business for all our customers including exporters, businesses, the travelling public and international visitors," Reidy said soon after his appointment to the job last year.
Outgoing chief executive Jim Quinn is assisting Reidy with the changeover.
- The Dominion Post