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New Zealand Interisland Ferry Goes Hard Aground in Latest Incident

ferry aground
Aratere (right) veered off course and grounded (Rachel Boyack MP on X)

Published Jun 21, 2024 1:51 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

The RoRo ferry Aratere went hard aground today departing Picton on New Zealand’s South Island for its four-hour run across Cook Strait. It was the latest embarrassment for the InterIslander service operated by KiwiRail.

The company acknowledged in a statement that the vessel is hard aground after what they said was a “steering failure,” on the 25-year-old vessel. The authorities said there was no immediate danger and that no oil leaks or water ingress had been observed.

The vessel which is 18,000 gross tons departed Picton earlier than scheduled for its fourth and final run of the day. It started the day with a scheduled 0530 departure from Wellington on the North Island, followed by 1100 from Picton, and 1630 from Wellington. The company reported the vessel which carries rail cars and trucks was making a freight-only run which had been due to reach the North Island around 0200.

Around 2145 tonight about a half hour after departing the berth, the Aratere veered off course and became stuck approximately 1.5 nautical miles north of Picton in Titoko Bay. Weather conditions were calm but reports from onboard said the eight commercial drivers aboard were awakened and told to put on lifejackets and to standby at a muster station. The vessel also has 39 crewmembers aboard.

The Coast Guard and local emergency services responded but there were no reports of injuries. The Picton Harbormaster was reported to be aboard working with the company on a salvage plan. Low tide was at 0220. The company was reporting that the vessel would be refloated depending on tidal conditions. High tide will be after 0800 on Saturday morning. Later reports from New Zealand said the drivers and crew spent the night aboard the ferry, but plans to refloat the vessel were being delayed so that divers can inspect the hull for damage.

 

 

 

Concerns were raised because the vessel is the only one of the fleet of three capable of transporting rail cars. It provides a vital cargo service connecting the islands.

KiwiRail has been locked in negotiations with the government over plans for new ferries to replace its aging fleet. An order had been set in 2021 with Hyundai Mipo Dockyard in South Korea to build new ferries but the government later withdrew from the promised financing. In February 2024, the companies said they were negotiating the end of the building contract.

Government officials have been highly critical of KiwiRail and the operation of the InterIslander ferries. Transport Minister Simeon Brown is being quoted in the media this week saying the government has been “highly unimpressed” with KiwiRail’s maintenance of the Interislander ferry fleet.

The Aratere has had a troubled career including breakdowns during its delivery run from its Spanish shipbuilder to New Zealand. It has multiple engine failures, another steering failure 20 years ago, and lost a propeller after breaking a drive shaft a decade ago. The vessel was rebuilt and lengthened by 98 feet (30 meters) in 2011 to its current length of 492 feet (150 meters). A year ago in February, the vessel lost power and was drifting in the Cook Strait due to what was reported to be a power failure. On the company’s schedule page, it notes currently, “Minor change to Aratere timetable: From Monday 27 May to approximately 29 July due as we are waiting for a gearbox part to be delivered.”

New Zealand prosecutors at the beginning of 2024 said they were filing charges against KiwiRail for another power failure incident in 2023. They accused the company of using out-of-date parts and failing to replace parts that were long after their recommended dates.