Whanau-owned Tauranga fishing company RMD welcomed its unique new $5m state-of-the-art 24m trawler Santy Maria with a traditional Maori blessing at the Marine Precinct yesterday afternoon.
The vessel was launched in Nelson by builders Aimex Service Group last month and arrived in Tauranga on Monday after unloading its first catch in Gisborne earlier in the month en route to its home port.
"This is absolutely the most up-to-date new launch the New Zealand fishing industry has seen in decades," said Roger Rawlinson, who with his brothers Dan and Marcus own RMD.
"It's a state-of-the-art boat that's been designed around health, safety and sustainability."
Roger Rawlinson stressed that the technologically advanced inshore fishing trawler will improve productivity and the quality of the catch, and minimise environmental impact because RMD plans to decommission three of its existing, older trawlers.
He will be the primary skipper of the new vessel, with Dan Rawlinson skippering the 26m Margaret Philippa, an older vessel being retained by the company.
However, Roger Rawlinson said he had "put his hand up" for a sister ship to the new build.
The Santy Maria is the first of a series of up to six new fishing vessels that will supply Aotearoa Fisheries (AFL), the largest iwi-owned fisheries company.
RMD is a Tauranga family business started by Bill and Nancy Rawlinson, who are of Ngati Awa descent. The company is the biggest supplier for AFL Inshore, which trades as Moana New Zealand. The build was initially financed by Moana New Zealand, with RMD taking over the mortgage on the vessel once it was completed.
Yesterday's ceremony included a blessing by kaumatua Kalani Tarawa, who described the Santy Maria as "a fabulous" vessel.
The design is specifically suited to the challenging New Zealand inshore fishing conditions, and it enables the use of cutting-edge sustainable technologies such as Precision Seafood Harvesting (PSH), which can target specific species with hi-tech nets.
Features include extra-high bulwarks to keep crew safe, and a host of handling features common on much larger factory ships, which have been included to make fishing easier and safer. Crew will include the next generation of the Rawlinson family. The vessel will also carry a Ministry of Primary Industries observer.
"We can fish sustainably using the PSH method," said Mr Rawlinson. "All the latest technology from around the world has been incorporated into this boat."
Aotea Fisheries chief executive Carl Carrington said at last year's keel-laying ceremony that its fleet renewal would be the biggest of its kind in New Zealand since the early 1970s.
"The average inshore fishing vessel is over 40 years old, so this project and the associated investment will give a much-needed boost to the industry and improve productivity," he said.
"The new vessels will be more fuel efficient, require less maintenance and are less susceptible to changeable weather conditions."
Aotearoa Fisheries looked around the world for design and build options, but preferred to build the vessels locally. Roger Rawlinson said he was delighted with the build quality of the new vessel.
The Santy Maria
• The new vessel was designed by Australian company OceanTech, with the guidance of Westfleet chief executive Craig Boote, one of New Zealand's leading fishing experts.