Aratere mishaps exposed serious failings

The Interislander ferry Aratere nearly ran aground in the Tory Channel last year due to poor bridge management and navigational practices, the Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) announced yesterday.

And just two days later, Aratere cut across the bow of another ship in Wellington, which has now led to the master of the ferry being censured.

On September 29, Aratere was sailing through Tory Channel with 292 people on board when it narrowly missed grounding on a rock off Arapawa Island, the MSA said.

The ship was operating on "automatic track-keeping mode" but despite its chief officer informing the master it was substantially off track, it was not until Aratere had deviated 100m that they intervened by turning it hard to port (left). It was still travelling about 20 knots (38km/h).

"The MSA investigation found Aratere narrowly missed grounding on a rock situated to the south of Whekenui Bay by 80 to 90 metres," the investigation report says.

Director of maritime safety Russell Kilvington yesterday said the MSA's investigations into Aratere uncovered several serious failings in the Cook Strait ferry's practices.

"Safety measures were put in place immediately following the incidents, significant measures have been put in place since, and more will follow," he said.

The two incidents pointed to poor bridge management and navigational practices, neglect for collision regulations, and an over-reliance on electronic navigation aids, the MSA found.

In the second incident, Aratere and Strait Shipping's freight ferry Kent were just entering Wellington Harbour when Aratere overtook Kent on her starboard side, as agreed.

But when Aratere's stern was just past Kent's bow, Aratere began turning back to port before clear of Kent.

"This was in breach of maritime rules," the MSA's decision reads.

Aratere cleared Kent by 130m.

The MSA has censured the master of Aratere for the incident.

In the near-grounding incident, the MSA found bridge recordings revealed that several other people, including children, were on the bridge at the time, but Toll Shipping had not told investigators that other people were on the bridge and the crew might have been distracted.

Mr Kilvington said that last June, just months before the near grounding, an MSA-approved auditor checked Aratere documentation and interviewed a selection of crew members, but did not detect its poor navigational practices.

He said had the auditor sailed with the ship, it was likely he would have identified these failings.

"There'll also be new, tighter procedures for auditors to follow.

"For example auditors will now check vessels while they're operating, so we can check [operators'] actual practice against what they say they do."

Toll Shipping, the operator of the Interislander ferries, said it supported the MSA's recommendations.

"The standards at the time of these incidents were simply not good enough - we accept this unreservedly," said divisional general manager Paul Garaty.

He said significant changes had already been made and the public could have confidence in the company's ferries. "The most important thing is that the public know that when they sail with us they are in safe hands."

- NZPA

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