Two hurt in Waiheke ferry crash

By Olivia Carville

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The launch was cut in two in the crash, and the front half was later towed to the Okahu Bay boat ramp. Photo / Natalie Slade
The launch was cut in two in the crash, and the front half was later towed to the Okahu Bay boat ramp. Photo / Natalie Slade

Two boaties were injured - but miraculously survived - when their launch was cut in two and sucked under the Waiheke ferry in a late-night collision off Auckland's eastern suburbs at the weekend.

The collision - which wrecked the 7.5m launch - is the subject of a Maritime New Zealand inquiry.

One boatie said yesterday that he was not surprised the ferry had been involved, describing two near-misses of his own.

The crash happened in rain and rough seas near the Bean Rock lighthouse shortly before 9pm on Saturday.

"We heard a hell of a noise coming from under the boat and a few seconds later I saw this thing fly up out of the water and I knew it was a boat," said one ferry passenger.

Another passenger, Norm Winger, 55, heard a "loud, grouching noise" as the boat was sucked under.

"The collision was quite harsh ... I thought, 'What the hell was that, was that a wave?' and then I quickly realised, 'Oh God, we've hit something'."

A third passenger, Julie Stevens, was "absolutely amazed" the men had survived.

"If there were people on that boat, I would have thought we would be fishing out bodies rather than searching for swimmers."

Auckland maritime police unit officer Craig Kennedy said yesterday the launch was destroyed. "It was virtually cut in two."

The two boaties, who were not wearing life jackets, were hauled from the sea and taken to Auckland City Hospital, where they were treated for minor cuts and hypothermia.

It was not known if the men were in the launch when it and the ferry collided or had jumped out before the impact.

The 34m Quickcat is one of ferry operator Fullers' biggest craft.

The collision sucked the launch between the two hulls of the ferry and it was semi-submerged, split in two and upside-down when maritime police reached the scene.

Fullers chief executive Douglas Hudson said the master on board was one of Fullers' longest-serving skippers.

Maritime New Zealand is investigating the collision to determine who was at fault.

Ferry passengers questioned whether the launch had its navigation lights on.

The ferry was travelling at its normal speed - 20 knots (just over 37km/h).

The Quickcat crew returned to the launch, used searchlights to find the men, then returned to Auckland and transferred passengers on to a later ferry.

Mr Hudson said the Fullers crew handled the rescue "very, very well". They were stood down from work yesterday because they were "shaken up", but the Quickcat was not damaged and was back in service yesterday.

Although the crash occurred at night and visibility was impaired, Fullers said this was not an issue and it was a matter of determining which vessel had right of way.

The incident did not come as a surprise to Stephen Delahunty, a member of the Royal Akarana Yacht Club, to where the front half of the wrecked launch was towed.

Mr Delahunty said he had had a few "near-misses" with the Quickcat and claimed it often "bullied" smaller vessels.

Fullers rejected Mr Delahunty's statement, but this is not the first time one of its two Quickcats has been involved in a collision.

In 2005, a 74-year-old woman was killed when a ferry collided with a 9m fishing boat in the same stretch of water.

The ferry's skipper was fined $5000 and ordered to pay reparations for operating a ship in a manner which caused unnecessary danger or risk to others.

Mr Delahunty said the ferries were "not interested in anyone else and think, 'I'm bigger, I'm faster and I'm coming through'."

He recalled one near-collision with a ferry a kilometre from Kohimarama beach.

"We were on a collision course with the Quickcat and it decided it wouldn't budge. We had to turn the power off and it missed us by only 20 feet. If we hadn't done something, he would have run us over."

Mr Hudson said he had been in the business for years and had never received complaints of that nature about a Quickcat.

Rules of the sea

* In a head-on situation: To avoid the risk of collision, two power-driven vessels each must alter their course to starboard (right) so that each passes on the port (left) side of the other.

* In a crossing situation: When two power-driven vessels are crossing, the vessel which has the other on its own starboard side must keep out of the way. The vessel required to keep out of the way must - if the circumstances allow - avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.

- Maritime Rules (Part 22 - collision prevention)

- NZ Herald

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