February 27, 2024

Prosecution exposes lack of Government ferry plan  

The Maritime Union is calling on the Government to review its decision to dump planned new Cook Strait ferries after the prosecution of a ferry operator.

Industry regulator Maritime NZ has filed a charge under the Health and Safety at Work Act against KiwiRail this week in relation to the January 2023 loss of propulsion incident involving the Interislander ferry, Kaitaki.

The Kaitaki lost power on its approach into Wellington Harbour on 28 January last year, with more than 800 passengers and 80 crew on-board. It then issued a mayday. After regaining limited power, the ferry made its way to port where its passengers were able to safely leave it and come ashore.

Maritime Union of New Zealand National Secretary Craig Harrison says the most important sea link in the country is in jeopardy.

“We have a ridiculous situation where the Government regulator is having to prosecute a State owned enterprise for ferry problems, but the Government has just cancelled new ferries that would solve the problem.”

He says Maritime New Zealand is simply doing its job, but KiwiRail has been placed in an impossible position by the Government due to long term underfunding. 

“The real issue here is historic underinvestment in ferries and coastal shipping over several decades, which has led to a crisis point in the safety and reliability of our supply chain.”

Mr Harrison says two new modern ferries and new terminals had been planned as part of the iRex ferry upgrade project, but were effectively cancelled in December 2023 when the new Government withdrew support for the project.

“The decision by the Government to walk away has left a credible solution to the ferry issue in limbo.”

Mr Harrison says the current Interislander ferries are at their end of life, and replacing them with other ageing vessels was just kicking the can down the road.

He says it would be unacceptable if State Highway One was allowed to fall to pieces, yet the ‘blue highway’ of Cook Strait was an extension of our main road and rail links.

Mr Harrison says the possibility of another serious incident is very real despite the best efforts of KiwiRail. 

He says failure to modernize this essential infrastructure leaves New Zealand exposed to further delays, service outages, expense for industry, and safety issues, with our main inter-Island connection. 

A review of the ill-judged decision to cancel the iRex project needed to take place, he says.

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